Mountaintop mining sees opposition in Frankfort

Mitchell Grogg

People from all around Kentucky spent their Valentine’s Day in Frankfort showing their love for mountains.

“I’ve been coming here to I Love Mountains Day for a long time, since early high school,” said Louisville junior Molly Kaviar. “It’s really great to see all these people out and to get the excitement going around mountaintop removal.”

Demonstrators marched from Frankfort’s Kentucky River Bridge to the State Capitol building, holding signs against mountaintop mining and chanting along the way. The group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth organized the march.

Mountaintop removal, also called mountaintop mining, involves “removal of mountaintops to expose coal seams, and disposing of the associated mining overburden in adjacent valleys,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

At the end of the process, regrading is done along with revegetation, according to the EPA.

The mining process also pollutes water, damages landscapes and limits economic growth, opponents say.

Lexington graduate Greg Capillo says mountaintop removal is one of the most terrifying things humanity does.

“We just completely alter the landscape permanently and completely destroy the ability for all life, human or otherwise, for such a short-term, short-sighted idea of quarterly profits,” he said.

The demonstrators were also protesting what many of them called a mono-economy coal companies had created — preventing economic growth in places affected by mountaintop mining.

“If you live in eastern Kentucky, you’re either going to sell pills, join the army or mine coal or work at Walmart,” Capillo said. “There’s just not a lot of economic options in part because the coal companies have intentionally taken steps to force out competition and make sure they’re the only game in town.”

Capillo also said he feels he is helping his neighbors by participating in the march to the capitol.

“KFTC is sort of like a big family for me,” he said. “So, the way that works is when you’ve got your family members getting sick, getting forced off their land, not able to live the life by all rights they should be able to live, that their family’s been living for generations, then that’s wrong, and I want to stand with those folks.”

Those marching felt an alternative to mountaintop removal could be alternative energy, including wind and solar power.

The march also attracted notable figures, including author Silas House, a professor at Berea College.

“I’m from a coal mine family, and I’m really proud of that,” he said. “One reason I’m here is because I think a lot of coal miners are losing their jobs because of mountaintop removal. I think that there are better ways to mine coal, and there’s just no reason to mine coal in such a wasteful and destructive way.”

Teri Blanton, fellow member at Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, also sees the march as a way to preserve culture in eastern Kentucky.

“We’re a mountain people, and we live in a mountain culture,” she said. “Without our mountains, who are we?”

To see video of the “I Love Mountains” march, watch Mitchell’s report tonight on Newschannel 12 Live at Six.