An estimated 15,000 people gathered at the site, according to organizers with Coal Mining Our Future, to take part in a rally against the “cap-and-trade” bill recently approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The bill seeks to place limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted from coal-fired power plants and forces companies to purchase permits for the right to burn carbon emitting fuel, a part of the plan critics say could cause a drastic increase in power bills for the everyday consumer and make burning coal impractical for these companies.
Many present at Saturday’s rally said coal is inextricably intertwined in the society and economy of Eastern Kentucky, and damage to the industry is bad for the region.
Mike Eversole, of Perry County, works for International Coal Group and said he attended the rally to show his support for the industry and the jobs it provides. He noted that he couldn’t predict what the cap-and-trade bill would do to the industry, but if the mining of coal halts, so does the economy of Eastern Kentucky.
“If there wasn’t coal there wouldn’t be electricity,” he said. “There wouldn’t be a whole lot of other stuff, because about everything ties into coal. Not only that, but wherever there was coal mines in the towns, it would hurt the economy.”
The rally was held on a former surface mining site near Hindman, and many made note of the fact that the Sportsplex itself is being paid for with coal severance funds. The Perry County Fiscal Court had on display several items used within the county paid for by coal severance receipts, such as one of the ambulances used at the Perry County Ambulance Authority, as a display of how coal mining had made an impact on the services local govnerment can provide.
Mixed in with the miners and their families were several local and state politicians, both Democrat and Republican, from several counties in Kentucky, and they all had something to say about the effects cap-and-trade would have on the everyday consumer’s wallet.
“The administration in Washington with the cap-and-trade bill, they’re after us. All they’re doing is a hidden tax,” said Democratic state Rep. Fitz Steele, of Hazard. “We’re going to pay 25 to 40 percent higher at least in energy prices, not counting our food and fuel prices, and not counting when people get laid off and lose jobs. We’re going to have to help take care of them, too, which that means other programs will be cut on down the line. It will be a domino effect.”
State Sen. Brandon Smith, a Republican from Hazard, noted that party and county line politics didn’t seem to play in Saturday’s rally.
“People are all together for one cause, that we obviously want to impact or shape the cap-and-trade issue where it doesn’t just wipe us out,” he said, adding that coal could lead the country down a path to energy independence. “Everybody complains about us, wanting us to be fuel independent, and yet we’re purchasing oil and borrowing money from countries that hate us. The only thing we have that every side has looked at and said it could make us independent is coal, and we’ve turned our back on it.”
State Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, had some harsh words for the Democratic leadership in Washington, saying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid don’t have the best interests of Eastern Kentuckians in mind.
“There’s people in Washington named Pelosi and Reid. I want you to remember those names,” Stivers told the crowd. “because anybody that walks up there, and they want to sit here and say they want to talk the talk, and they’re going to walk up to Washington and walk the walk with them, they’re not walking the walk with us.”
Several other speakers were included in Saturday’s rally, including Perry County Judge Executive Denny Ray Noble, Knott County Judge Executive Randy Thompson, and state Rep. Keith Hall.
Haven King with Coal Mining Our Future noted that Saturday’s rally was in part a gauge to see how much support the coal industry could muster for a later rally in Washington, D.C. According to King, the estimated 15,000 people who showed up this past weekend illustrated that there is enough interest in traveling to the nation’s capital to hold a similar event.
“We’ve got plans to go to Washington,” King said, noting that the next rally will be held after Congress comes back into session. “They come back Sept. 7, so we’re trying to plan around that and see.”
Hundreds of people have already signed up and said they will attend the rally in Washington, and King added that his group has been in contact with coal associations in several other states in an attempt to gain more support. King said for local residents, he believes transportation will be provided to the nation’s capital, and those interested can email Coal Mining Our Future at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
“We’ve got the interest, we saw that the people came together,” he added. “Those people were fired up because I think they’re realizing Congress is moving too fast, and we need to slow them down.”
Eventually the country needs to move to use more renewable energy, and everyone realizes this fact, King continued.
“We’re not against renewable energy,” he explained, adding that the country should move to make wind and solar technology more efficient. He also added that the country should have moved to utilize coal-to-fuel technology 30 years ago as well.
King said he thinks eventually some political campaigns in the state could hinge on the coal issue, and he doesn’t see how people from Eastern Kentucky could overwhelmingly vote for candidates taking the anti-coal stance.
“I don’t see how someone from Eastern Kentucky could vote fro someone that’s against coal,” he said. “Without coal, you know what we’d be.”