WASHINGTON — About 100 people, including at least a dozen from Kentucky, were arrested outside the White House on Monday while protesting mountaintop-removal mining.
The protesters were arrested after refusing orders from U.S. Park Police to leave the sidewalk outside the White House. They staged a rally at nearby Freedom Plaza earlier in the day.
"It was my first adventure being arrested," Teri Blanton, former president of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said by phone after being released from jail Monday evening.
She said she wasn't aiming to get arrested but thought civil disobedience was worth it.
"The message was to President Obama and his administration that our people and our mountains are being destroyed and water polluted," Blanton said.
Rick Handshoe of Floyd County said the protest was about more than mountaintop-removal mining.
"It's not just about the environment. They're killing the environment and they're killing people," he said. "This is about death. ...
"We've got to do something else, start transitioning to some other kind of energy."
Handshoe said he was fined $100.
Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser said a majority of the arrests were for disobeying a lawful order — in this case, to come in compliance with demonstration regulations. A handful of others were charged with crossing a police line, he said.
Event organizer Bo Webb said that some had been released and that he expected most to be freed Monday night.
Among those arrested was climate scientist James Hansen, who issued a statement saying mountaintop removal "destroys historic mountain ranges, poisons water supplies and pollutes the air with coal and rock dust."
"Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, can and should be abolished. The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries must end," Hansen said.
The industry-backed group FACES of Coal said in a statement that such a ban would cost tens of thousands of jobs and make the United States more dependent on foreign sources of energy. The group paid for most of the travel and lodging expenses for a protest two weeks ago by coal miners upset at steps the Environmental Protection Agency has taken to rein in the coal-removal process.
Monday's rally was part of a two-day Appalachia Rising conference that gathered environmental advocates from the region and the nation in Washington to formulate strategies about coal issues.
The Appalachia Rising ralliers started Monday's protest at Freedom Plaza, then marched a few blocks to the White House. They carried signs like "Blowing Up Mountains for Coal Poisons People" and "Mountain ecosystems won't grow back." Some carried small white crosses adorned with messages such as "water pollution" and "corporate greed." The rally was organized by protesters from Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee.
In mountaintop-removal mining, forests are clear-cut, explosives blast apart the rock, and machines scoop out exposed coal. The earth left behind is dumped into valleys, often covering streams. Coal operators say it's the most efficient way to reach some reserves and provides coal for electric power plants across much of the South and East.
Despite on-and-off showers, Monday's protest had a festive air to it, with horns, drums, chanting and singing accompanying the roughly two hours of arrests. People even danced as they waited for police to take them into custody. The last eight standing did a little chorus line move. One man wore stilts that made him tower over everyone else, along with a hat adorned like a U.S. flag and a long nose.
At one point, they turned and faced the White House and yelled, "Obama, stop mountaintop removal!," "Let us in!" and "Yes you can!" The protesters said the EPA hasn't gone far enough in tightening rules — they want a total ban.
In a statement, the EPA said it was using its authority to significantly improve protections by reducing the effects of mountaintop mining. "We've set commonsense guidelines that protect the local waters, maximize coal recovery and reduce costs," the agency said.
The coal industry has filed a lawsuit against the EPA's new policy to tighten water quality standards for valley fills at surface coal mines in Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said the goal is a standard so strict that few, if any, permits would be issued for valley fills.