A mother asked that something be done about the toxic dust from the neighborhood coal processing plant that the doctor said was making her daughter sick.
The mayor and residents of Lynch asked that strip mining not be allowed to destroy the town's drinking water and threaten historic restorations that help support the local tourism economy.
Young women were alarmed that the children they would like to have some day have a greater risk of birth defects simply because of the part of the state where they live.
Many others asked that we take the opportunity we have today, right now, to begin transitioning to a new energy economy in Eastern Kentucky so that our children will not have to leave the region to find meaningful work.
These are just some of the concerns and hopes that Eastern Kentuckians shared when officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency visited several communities last week.
The fact that EPA officials came in the first place and value the concerns and comments of ordinary people — those of us who are most impacted by the decisions the agency makes about issuing permits and enforcing the law — was just too much for coal politicians and industry spokespeople. As if on cue, by Friday they were issuing statements right and left condemning the EPA's presence here. They even criticized the media that covered the tour and gave voice to the citizens' concerns.
These politicians know the EPA is the first state or federal agency in many years inclined to make coal companies obey the law.
While last week's statements were just the usual squawking against the EPA, these same politicians have spoken loudly and clearly with their recent silence.
When a study was released documenting that children born near mountaintop removal mines have a 26 percent higher incidence of birth defects, we heard not one word of concern or compassion from these same politicians. Instead, there was a round of industry attacks on the researchers.
When evidence was made public that specific coal companies had filed thousands of fraudulent water-monitoring reports and were releasing toxins into streams below their mine sites (violations the companies have acknowledged), we heard not one word of outrage or call for stronger enforcement from these politicians.
When several other studies were released showing that those of us who live near mountaintop removal mines and the polluted streams that result have an increased risk of cancer, heart and respiratory diseases, and a lower life expectancy, we didn't hear one word of concern.
Again, the scientists, who really did nothing more than document what is actually happening, were attacked.
It is of particular note that U.S. Rep Hal Rogers' district ranks dead last in quality of life among all 435 congressional districts in the country. Yet Rogers is leading the anti-EPA crusade in Congress. Clearly, he seems more concerned about how coal companies — most of which are headquartered elsewhere — are faring better than the people in his district. There are a growing number of us in Eastern Kentucky who have a new and different vision for our part of the state, and for the rest of Kentucky.
We know that where we get our energy is changing — has to change — and we believe Kentucky can be on the forefront of that change. In doing so, we can create new jobs, like our neighboring states are already doing, and at the same time make our communities healthier.
This is not going to happen while our politicians are busy protecting polluters. There are kids who are sick today and unborn babies who won't have an equal chance because of our politicians' allegiance to old power.
I don't accept that this is the way it has to be. It's time to change. It's time for new power.