Coal activists arrested at Rep. Hal Rogers' Washington office

U.S. Rep Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, photographed in 2007. Photo by David Perry | Staff
U.S. Rep Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, photographed in 2007. Photo by David Perry | Staff

Police arrested more than 20 opponents of mountaintop mining at four U.S. House offices Wednesday, including six people from Kentucky who had pushed to meet with Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers.

Police charged the activists at Rogers' office after they started singing in a waiting room and stayed despite warnings to leave, according to U.S. Capitol Police and others who were there.

About 20 people from Kentucky went to Rogers' office in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning in hopes of meeting with him, said Kevin Pentz of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

Members of the group said they wanted to discuss opposition to mountaintop mining and other issues, such as support for renewable energy and help for displaced miners.

Mountaintop mining opponents have had a hard time getting a meeting with Rogers, Pentz said.

Rogers, R-Somerset, was not available to meet with the group Wednesday because he had a full day of legislative business, including action on funding for farm families, rural water and sewer projects, research on clean-coal technology and the repair project on Wolf Creek Dam, said Danielle Smoot, Rogers' spokeswoman.

The Kentucky delegation was given the opportunity to speak with knowledgeable staff members in Rogers' office, including his chief of staff, Michael Higdon, but declined, Smoot said.

The delegation wanted to talk directly with Rogers, Pentz said.

After being in the office for two hours or so, some of the advocates stared singing Amazing Grace. When they were done, Higdon told them "that's beautiful," but that they couldn't sing in the office, Pentz said.

Pentz said some people then started singing Which Side Are You On, Hal Rogers? — a variation on a famous labor song written in Harlan County in the 1930s.

Some members of the group left when police warned them, but others didn't.

A spokeswoman for the Capitol police said officers arrested six people in Rogers' office, but Pentz said it was seven.

He said those arrested included Teri Blanton, a former president of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth; Stanley Sturgill, a retired federal mine-safety inspector who has helped fight proposed surface mining near the historic Harlan County coal town of Lynch; Erica Skaggs; Mary Love; Tress La'Ree; and Carey Henson.

Pentz said the seventh person was a documentary maker from out of state.

Police also arrested people at the offices of Reps. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.; Morgan Griffith, R-Va.; and Jimmy Duncan, R-Tenn., according to Appalachia Rising, the group that coordinated the events.

The coal-state lawmakers have failed to protect constituents from damage caused by mountaintop mining, Appalachia Rising said.

"I'm here for my family, my children, my grandchildren and to try to keep a decent place for them to live. They deserve that, and we're not getting that with the things happening in the mountains," Sturgill said in a statement posted on the Appalachia Rising Web site. "Mountaintop removal is destroying lives."

Mountaintop mining is a flash point issue in Central Appalachia.

The coal industry argues that such mining is strictly regulated and that companies restore the land blasted apart to get coal, but environmental advocates say the practice destroys mountains and streams, and they cite studies showing it damages the environment and hurts human health.

Rogers, who has represented Kentucky's 5th District for more than 30 years, has been a strong supporter of the coal industry and has been sharply critical of objections to some surface-mining permits by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Rogers also has gotten funding for environmental programs such as litter and illegal dump cleanup in Eastern Kentucky, as well as for sewage-treatment projects to reduce pollution from failed septic systems.

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