The Richmond Register

March 27, 2013

Students support legislation against mountaintop removal

Black water’ for free

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND —

Everything on the menu was “free” Wednesday: brown water, black water, chalky water and “water that you wouldn’t even give your dog.”

Tables, complete with printed menus, a bread appetizer and a wine glass full of brown, murky water, were displayed along with information about the harmful affects of mountaintop removal for the purpose of mining coal.

Carol Hinds, Eastern Kentucky University student and delegate to the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition, set up the exhibit to encourage legislative action against this form of coal mining.

Meanwhile, EKU’s health fair bustled with activity in the Powell Building above, something Hinds found to be “delightfully ironic.”

Satirically marketing the infamous “black water” that “communities suffering from mountaintop removal are forced to drink,” is one tactic of this youth movement, she said.

“When people see this water and realize this is going on in their backyards — it’s simply inexcusable,” Hinds said.

KSEC delegates from more than ten state colleges and universities joined in this day of action, which was intended to support two pieces of legislation, House Bill 170 and House Bill 86.

Both bills never made it to a vote during the 30-day legislative session that ended Tuesday, she said.

However, Wednesday’s statewide efforts will “let our representatives know that they should have picked up their pens and passed the bills that would have ushered in clean energy and safer mining practices,” Hinds said. “Hopefully they will hear us and next time, things will be different.”

House Bill 170, or the Clean Energy Opportunity Act, would have required utility companies to get an increasing share of their electricity from clean, renewable sources and energy efficiency programs, according to Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

It also would have established a feed-in tariff to set a guaranteed rate for renewable energy producers.

A recent study estimated HB 170 would reduce average utility bills by 8 to 10 percent over the next decade, compared to a do-nothing scenario, according to Steve Wilkins, a Richmond Register guest columnist and member of the Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance Coordinating Committee.

However, some see this bill as a threat to the coal industry, he said.

House Bill 86, or the Stream Saver bill, would have prohibited the dumping of toxic mine wastes into “an intermittent, perennial or ephemeral stream or other water of the Commonwealth,” KFTC stated.

The Kentucky Conservation Committee also was a strong supporter of this bill.

Wednesday afternoon, Hinds did not have much difficulty getting fellow students and passersby to stop and look at her dingy dining display. She seized that opportunity to ask others to sign a petition in support of the two bills.

Associate professor in the baccalaureate department of nursing at EKU, Elaine Waters, added her name to the petition.

She has been “fighting this fight” for more than 40 years, she said. As a student at Vanderbilt University during the ’70s, Waters was a part of the Save Our Cumberland Mountains community organizing group.

She joined the movement to preserve “decent drinking water,” she said, which is affected by coal mining waste dumped into nearby valleys and streams.

As a health professional student, she paid special attention to the “effects of mountaintop removal to the environment and the community,” she said.

Waters remembers visiting rural areas devastated by landslides and deforestation, which are results of mountaintop removal, she said.

In a July 2011 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this form of coal mining generates “large volumes of waste that bury adjacent streams” which can significantly compromise water quality.

“The waste often causes permanent damage to ecosystems and renders streams unfit for drinking, fishing and swimming,” the report stated.

The EPA also estimated that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining.  

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.