Voicing environmental concerns, hundreds of activists and residents from Appalachian and beyond rallied on the Kentucky Capitol steps for the annual I Love Mountains Day.
“We just want what all people need to survive,” said organizer Sue Tallichet, chairperson for Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. “I mean, such radical things as clean water, safe and decent jobs, the chance to raise our kids in a healthy hopeful place.”
The rally drew people from far beyond Kentucky’s borders.
Accompanying a chanting crowd of marchers on guitar was Matthew Parsons, who came to the rally from West Virginia. Along with other activists, Parsons talks about transitioning Appalachian economy away from coal.
“What we need to see is new businesses moving into these areas and to see the coal move out because they’re killing the area, killing the economy,” Parson said. “They’re creating a mono-economy. They’ve got a monopoly on the work for us.”
Also on hand were representatives of the coal industry.
Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett says coal remains an essential part of Appalachia’s economy because of jobs. For that, he said, the industry should be protected.
“When people suggest that tourism jobs or Walmart or things like that are gonna replace coal mining jobs which pay much better and have much better benefits, there’s a real concern that you’re again gonna really destabilize the livelihoods and essentially force people out of eastern Kentucky.”
The I Love Mountains Day participants chanted “MTR has got to go”—meaning mountaintop removal mining.
Bissett argued that surface mines cover half the coal shipped out of eastern Kentucky, and that banning half of coal production would negatively impact region’s economy.
But Sydney Bernstein, who came to the rally from Kansas City, said economic concerns should not override the economic impact.
“I think it’s important to preserve what was originally here, when this is just for money,” Bernstein said, referring to the industry the demonstrators say are harming the environment in eastern Kentucky. “It’s just for money and not to for anything else. Money and energy and there are obviously alternative ways to get energy.”