KFTC members speak out at hearing on mountaintop removal

On June 10, several members of KFTC went to Virginia for a congressional committee hearing on mountaintop removal in Virginia. This was a public forum with Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), the ranking Democratic member of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources. Rep. Grijalva was interested in hearing about the current and legacy impacts of mountaintop removal, including health impacts, and recent decisions by the Trump administration and Congress to take away stream protections and weaken environmental safeguards.

I was excited to attend this hearing because of the concerns that I have around the impacts of coal mining on Kentucky’s economy. My internship with KFTC has been a learning process that has given me a deeper understanding of economic and social justice issues in Appalachia. It has been quite astonishing that despite the fact that coal mining was the major economic resource in Kentucky, the state has been laid back in terms of economic development.

I have been relating this issue to what I have seen back home in Kenya. I have come to a conclusion that Appalachian issues concerning the exploitation of coal by corporations from outside the region is similar to the situation in Kenya. Most of the foreign corporations in Kenya also take resources out of the community without improving the local economy. The local people thus end up bearing the externalities of mineral exploitation such as the destruction of the environment. Attending this hearing was thus a great opportunity for KFCT to present their case to the congressman and discuss the way forward for a just transition.

Most of the foreign corporations in Kenya also take resources out of the community without improving the local economy.

When Stanley Sturgill, a KFTC member and former coal miner from Harlan County, was called to speak, he informed Rep. Grijalva on the reality of climate change. “Climate change is real. It is just common sense,” Sturgill said. As a consequence, if coal mining is not stopped, Kentuckians will suffer from more devastating effects of coal mining. However, people from the mountains have the ability to improve their lives for a better future, Sturgill said. We are capable of turning things around from mountaintop removal that causes economic disruptions and environmental degradation. In fact, people from Appalachia should not just stop coal mining because of the decline in the market for it, but rather because of the effects it has on our health, families, and the environment, Sturgill said.

As Rep Grijalva stated, “You can create jobs without sacrificing people’s lives, and it is therefore time for Americans to wake up from their slumber.”

Indeed, the creation of jobs is of great concern in our society, but let us work for ways in which we can create sustainable jobs to replace the lost jobs in coal mining. Creating green jobs in Kentucky is possible. For instance, we can make investment in renewable energies such as solar and wind. There are counties which have taken the step towards solar energy. For example, Benham – a small former coal camp in Harlan County – has developed a community energy efficiency program. Moreover, we should invest in the education of the young people and training of coal miners towards the development of new energy power.

Rep Grijalva also emphasized his support for the RECLAIM Act and promised that an investment will be made to reclaim the places damaged by coal mining. He promised an investment of one billion dollars for projects to build new businesses and recreational facilities at the abandoned mining sites in Kentucky.

The hearing was thus an emphasis to the congressman that Kentuckians and the Appalachian people in other areas do not want the continuity of coal mining. The only thing needed is the commitment and the dedication of the community members to build this new energy and community power. Without a doubt, if we do not stand up and speak about our problems, our leaders in D.C will never know what is happening in our homes, environment and families. The power is in our hand to turn things around for a better future where all Kentuckians have affordable health care, retirement benefits, decent jobs and a clean environment. Let us take the action of supporting the RECLAIM Act and Empower Kentucky plan and many other platforms for a just transition in Kentucky.

 

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