Environmental and human rights activists starting a new movement to march on Washington say the Obama administration should not only tighten regulations on surface mining in Appalachia but abolish the practice.
"We're about to take the EPA back," said Mickey McCoy, a retired high school teacher from Inez in Martin County and a leader of Appalachia Rising, a movement endorsed in part by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the Sierra Club and celebrities such as author Silas House, actress Ashley Judd and actor Woody Harrelson.
Appalachia Rising is planning a two-day conference at Georgetown University on Sept. 25 and 26, and a march and acts of civil disobedience in Washington D.C. on a "day of action" Sept. 27.
In Kentucky, a group will hold a prayer service at 11 a.m. Sept. 11 at Wiley's Last Resort in Whitesburg to seek sustainable jobs, miners' safety, clean water, health forests and security from flooding.
Pro-coal groups such as the Kentucky Coal Association and FACES of Coal are planning their own rally in Washington to highlight the economic impact of coal on Sept. 15.
Coal-burning plants produce about 50 percent of the nation's electricity, and more than 90 percent of Kentucky's. Coal mines employ about 19,000 people in the state, including about 7,000 on surface mines, according to 2008 numbers from the U.S. Department of Energy.
McCoy said the Environmental Protection Agency, which under the Bush administration overturned some mining regulations intended to protect mountain streams, needs to account more for the human health costs of surface mining. The mine overburden produced by blasting away dirt and rock above coal seams leaches minerals into drinking water, causing higher rates of kidney disease and other problems in Eastern Kentucky and other Appalachian regions, McCoy said.
The Sierra Club has tested hundreds of streams across the state in the past 2.5 years, said Tim Guilefoile, deputy director of the club's "Water Sentinels."
"There are very few, very few streams left in Eastern Kentucky that will support fish. There's just nothing left," he said, adding that Kentucky has missed an opportunity to use streams as a tourism attraction and economic replacement for coal.
Kentucky Coal Association Vice President David Moss said his group and others will bus supporters to Capitol Hill to demonstrate against a bill sponsored by Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, intending to ban stream fills from mountaintop mining. "Real people's lives are at stake," Moss said.