FRANKFORT — Several hundred people gathered Tuesday on the front steps of the Capitol in a cold, steady drizzle to send a message to coal executives and public officials that "what you do to the land, you do to the people."
The setting was the seventh annual I Love Mountains Day in Frankfort, organized by the activist group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
As the rally unfolded, large trucks with signs touting the coal industry circled the Capitol.
Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said the trucks were from Friends of Coal of Kentucky, highlighting the 50,000 pro-coal license plates on personal vehicles across the state, and the Faces of Kentucky Coal campaign that has expressed concern about the policies of the Obama administration and their effect on coalfield jobs.
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Speakers and many at the rally bemoaned mountaintop-removal mining. Several carried signs that read, "There is No Planet B," "Savor Our Streams" and "Topless Mountains Are Obscene."
Steve Boyce, chairman of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and a retired Berea College professor, said the environmental movement to preserve land is growing.
He noted the presence of high school students from across the state at the rally and said weekly sit-ins in front of the governor's office would continue. More than 200 people have been involved in the sit-ins during the past year, he said.
Terri Blanton, a Kentuckians for the Commonwealth fellow and spokeswoman who grew up in a coal-mining family in Harlan County, urged state legislators to approve House Bill 167, which encourages clean energy policies, conservation and the use of renewable resources. It was introduced Jan. 3 by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, but it has had no committee action.
This year's guest speaker was Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Cree First Nation in northern Alberta, Canada. She is an opponent of tar-sands extraction to get oil and has been a key leader in the national fight against the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil from Canada across the United States.
She told the group, "Our struggles are the same."
At the end of the rally, the speakers and crowd marched around the Capitol and then to the Governor's Mansion, where many stuck colorful pinwheels into the lawn.
Jerry Hardt, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth communications director, said the pinwheels represented the health effects of mountaintop-removal mining. People all over Kentucky helped make the 1,200 pinwheels, each representing 50 people who have cancer linked to coal mining, he said.
Bissett, wearing an "I Love Coal" button, said Kentuckians who hear the "I Love Mountains" cry against mountaintop removal, a controversial method of extracting coal, should realize that half of the coal from Eastern Kentucky is from surface-mining methods.
"While these anti-coal activists often talk about mountaintop mining, I believe they often mean all surface mining. That will affect everything from coal severance tax to opportunities for Eastern Kentuckians to feed their families," Bissett said.