While ABC-TV maven Diane Sawyer missed the bigger picture this week in her myopic portrait of Appalachian poverty in “Children of the Mountains,” hundreds of Kentuckians converged on Frankfort to celebrate their mountains and call for an end to mountaintop removal. Led by actress Ashley Judd and author Silas House, the Kentuckians rallied behind a “stream-saver” bill slowly passing through the state legislature.
Eastern Kentucky native Judd pulled no punches in her speech on the state capitol steps: “Make no mistake about it: The coal companies are thriving. Even in this bleak economy, they are thriving. What is dying is our mountains. And they are dying so fast, my friends, so shockingly fast.”
Bestselling novelist House, a native of the eastern Kentucky coalfields, called on Gov. Steve Beshear (D-Ky.) to have the courage to confront the dirty realities of coal:
I think Gov. Beshear is a good man and I don’t understand why he won’t come out and listen to us … We’ve had a hundred years of being told not to speak out against the coal industry. It’s hard to break out of that culture. We’ve been taught to feel powerless.
House is the author of several brilliant novels, most recently, Coal Tattoo. He also penned a wonderful essay in the Jan/Feb issue of Sierra Magazine, which includes some very graphic images of our daily coal consumption, i.e. an average American burns 78 pounds of coal a month just to twirl their clothes in the dryer.
As one of the main sponsors of the KY Loves Mountains Day, the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth have shown that mountaintop removal, and strip mining in general, have led to massive unemployment in the coal mining region, depopulated many of the rural communities, destroyed the forests, and polluted the watersheds.While Sawyer tugged at her TV viewers’ emotions with some portraits of poverty in eastern Kentucky, she failed to mention that in the same eastern Kentucky counties she visited, coal mining employment — which has maintained a stranglehold on the region and kept out any other attempts at a sustainable and diversified economy — has plummeted by nearly 70 percent in some areas, thanks largely to the highly mechanized and devastating use of mountaintop removal strip mining.
Here is a chart outlining the quality of life indicators vs. coal production statistics in the last 20 years in these coal counties.