Monday, October 05, 2009

Pro-coal organizing moves into Kentucky

We reported last month about the coal industry's increased emphasis on grassroots organizing in the face of increasing concern about mountaintop-removal mining in Central Appalachia and climate-change legislation that the industry opposes. Now the pro-coal campaigns are moving from West Virginia to Kentucky.

The Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security, which calls itself "FACES of Coal," launched its Kentucky campaign last week. Dori Hjalmarson of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the group, funded by coal interests, seeks to "educate people outside the mining regions about the benefits organizers say coal brings to the state." (Associated Press photo by Bob Bird)

A new "Friends of Coal" license plate is the fastest selling special interest plate in the state's history, Hjalmarson reports, and a Coal for Kids group helps provide clothing and food to children through family-resource centers at schools in some counties. Perry County Clerk Haven King, director of Coal Mining Our Future, an industry-sponsored non-profit, credits his group's letter-writing campaign with stopping the state "stream saver" bill that would have halted valley fills needed for mountaintop-removal mines.

King, who is up for re-election next year, told Hjalmarson that coal companies have always given back to the community, but "The reason they are tooting their horn is because of me." At a recent pro-coal concert in Breathitt County, King told the crowd that environmentalists in Lexington and Louisville "want to take your jobs," and led chants of "Our coal! Our children! Our mountains!"

Lauren McGrath, the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign representative in Lexington, notes that surface mines employ far fewer workers than underground mines, and while coal output is up in the last 20 years, some of the country's poorest counties remain in coal country. "The higher-ups in the industries are benefiting," not the local residents, she tells Hjalmarson. (Read more)

"Coal, known as king and curse in Kentucky, is the subject of two very different kinds of events coming early in October," The Beattyville Enterprise reports. The first official FACES of Coal Kentucky event, a Hazard rally that has since been postponed, and the Oct. 7 Kentucky debut of Coal Country, the Movie, a controversial anti-coal documentary highlight both sides of the debate. (Read more, subscription required)

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