Coal is one of many of Kentucky’s natural resources. Coal has been used in Kentucky for more than 250 years and possibly even further back than that if you count the Native American undocumented history. But what exactly is it that makes coal such an important factor to Kentucky? Well, if you count that almost 95% of Kentucky’s energy comes from coal as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that’s pretty important. Especially when coal is still the most talked about topic among Kentucky’s politicians. The communities affected by coal companies are growing larger and larger every day. It is estimated that by 2020, 1.4 acres of land in the Appalachia will be lost to mining companies every year. The citizens of these communities are not only outraged but feel in some way that their voice isn’t being acknowledged by those they put into higher government positions.
The debate about coal has been going on for decades; ever since humans have found out that there is another way to obtain energy rather than burn and turn it into liquid from coal. Mountain top removal (MTR) is also a bigger concern because it pollutes the air with dust particles that can potentially be harmful. MTR has been said by earthjustice.org to be a very destructive practice that has no really good solution to make the impact of it less or cleaner. It has no solution because even if the process in which the coal miners still blow up the mountain changes slightly it still will have a great environmental impact. The environmental impact of mountain top removal has been devastating in some regions because it removes trees, shrubs, and forestry used to catch rainwater which in turn stops flooding. Flooding in regions where MTR is mostly happening have had reports of more than 3 damaging floods a year compared to old statistics reported by earthjustice. So far there hasn’t been a group to combine both sides of the coal issue; however there are two main radical groups that have a very big influence on the citizens of Kentucky.
One groups name is Friends for Coal is a volunteer organization that consists of both Kentuckians and residents from other states that support coal; and their mission statement declares that “FOC is dedicated to inform and educate Kentucky citizens about the coal industry and its vital role in the state’s future…Our goal is to provide a united voice for an industry that has been and remains a critical economic contributor to Kentucky. By working together, we can provide good jobs and benefits for future generations, which will keep our children and grandchildren close to home.”Friends of coal, the Kentucky chapter centered in Lexington, was founded in 2006. The group was originally founded in West Virginia. Membership in this club is absolutely free and the level of involvement as at the member own discretion. The friends of coal website states that “We do not want your “money”, we want your personal participation.”
Beyond Coal mission is to end, as they would say the outdated coal plants and make sure it gets cleaned up or phased out, and see that it is replaced by solar or wind energy, create new jobs and jump-start the green economy. The director of the campaign Mary Anne Hitt said in our interview “I believe that this is the biggest thing I can do in my life not only to protect my daughter’s health and future on this earth; but for many more generations to come and enjoy the earth as well before we destroy it.” We may have had this interview over the phone but the passion and declaration in her voice made me realize how big of a forefront both of these extremes have, and why they matter to so many people. Unlike Friends of Coal, Beyond Coals organization is a membership fee required one. Memberships start at $15 base fee for just minimum member activities and participation. However if you truly want to get involved paying the full $100 amount is strongly recommended.
Each organization has such an impact on people’s lives especially since they are on two very different sides, and both have very different political standpoints. But one thing that brings them together is the fact that they want the citizens, if not most then some, of Kentucky to get involved in this matter, raise their voices and be heard. Friends of Coal and Beyond Coal may have some leave way in the government but it all pulls back to the people’s voice.
Fiends of Coal as I have mentioned earlier is dedicated to teaching unaware citizens that coal mining and harvesting is important to Kentucky. Just the name of the organization says it all. As I spoke to one of the groups press representatives who was just merely an intern, Margaret Gray, she said that her involvement with this organization has something to do with her family history and that most young people that pick a side in this issue come from both sides of the tracks. Margaret stated that her father personally worked in the coal mines; however, her mother worked deeply with the Beyond Coal campaign to get her husband out of harm’s way. Mr. Gray has already suffered enough medical troubles to last anyone a life time, but according to his daughter that’s just one thing her father and mother couldn’t agree on. I could imagine what that discussion would be like at the dinner table.
But Friends of Coal doesn’t just support the coal industry; they also do a lot of community work. And if you’ve ever been to a University of Kentucky football game you can see their advertisements everywhere. This organization is deeply rooted in their community because they host so many different events such as a St. Patricks’ day parade and concert; they even have flood relief benefits to help out different states in need. The members of friends of coal are people that work in the mining field personally and who also believe that coal is a better solution for energy. The website suggests that without coal the high demand for energy would not be satisfied. The coal industry argues that coal creates jobs and gives poor to lower middle class families some type of stable income rather than welfare. It also argues that the economy of Kentucky revolves so much around the usage of coal because coal is cheap and there for us to obtain through various methods. One thing I came across in my research is how this particular group didn’t try to cover up the bad effects of Coal mining; including the method of mountain top removal, but used it to their advantage and say after they do blow up the mountain, we go back and plant trees and give something back to the earth since we took so much from it. Beyond Coal may have made Friends of Coal look like bad guys but actually Friends of Coal is doing exactly the same thing as Beyond Coal, which is to keep values alive and maintained.
Beyond coal is an organization led by Mary Anne Hitt, to stop mining for coal because their scientific research states that coal causes a lot of health problems in the air because of the pollutants from coal burning and the methods to obtain it. Hitt and her members believe that solar and wind power is the way of the future. She says to me in an interview “Coal is so outdated, overrated, an unnecessary.” Once again her voice is so stern but this time I detect a sense of laughter or at least a joking matter with a more serious text behind it. Beyond Coal isn’t as much involved in the community as it ought to be. But to be a member of the group you would have to pay a nominal fee, and renew it every so often. A member of the group snatched the phone away from Mrs. Hitt for a moment and said “Our cause yes, it isn’t cheap, but when you get no help from the government because the biggest leaders have been persuaded over to the dark side of things, asking members to pay for membership doesn’t seem so trivial after all. In fact it shows your loyalty to the cause even more because some poor mining families will give up their last to help end coal mining in their town to protect their family and loved ones.” When Mary Anne Hitt, returned to the phone it sounded a little bit as if she agreed entirely with her group counterpart. Beyond Coal is a force that is sweeping the nation. I read on the website that they have stopped over 200 coal factories nationwide and are still continuing doing so until every last one is either cleaner or completely out of business. Members of the group believe that in stopping coal production we could have over 820,000 jobs created because of work on solar, wind, and possibly geothermal plants and also make the economy of Kentucky stronger and independent. Beyond Coal believes that solar and wind power electricity is much cheaper than coal and they estimate it to be a little over 10 million dollars saved for citizens in electric company cost.
Even though both sides have very strong arguments I can’t help but notice it seems like both sides are contradicting each other just to prove the other side wrong and this one right and vice versus. Both state that their solution for energy is cleaner, more effective, and produces more jobs, but both groups also have their own team of scientific researchers just waiting to disprove another’s theory. It’s almost as if were playing a modern day back and forth game of “anything you can do I can do better”. If I had to choose a side in this matter I would choose to be neutral. Of course coal is bad and it does pollute more dirt in the air but it does help keep the energy in the country flowing. A part of me can’t help but second guess the wind and solar power proposal because really if they were that effective why aren’t we using it. If America wants to have this “go green” lifestyle then why aren’t we promoting something a little greener than coal? The problem with using solar and wind power is that it’s not as reliable as coal. That’s my only issue with both sides of the argument, neither side presented clear representation of why this is better than the other than simply merely stating that it’s a health or environmental concern . Now if one side came up with better research to totally disprove the other one wrong then that would be better to. But since that hasn’t happened yet I’ll continue to hold my breath. For me it’s weird, because I am a person with asthma and I don’t know if it was caused by pollutants in the air, but I think just because I do have asthma it’s making me a little less critical in the matter. There have been studies that suggest that Americans that adapt asthma later on in life, most likely the cause was from man-made factories; especially coal burning factories.
Coal is truly one of Kentucky’s biggest economic factors, well other than horses. As you have already read coal is the most talked about topic between not only the older generation but also the new upcoming generations. When I spoke to Hitt over the phone she said she would love it if one day her daughter decides to either join the Beyond Coal campaign or start her own. “I think her just having as much passion to get something accomplished and to make the world a better place would make me feel as though I’ve done the finest job of raising her.” When I was first doing background research I was wondering why is this big factor? Why do they use so much coal? What makes coal special? But after doing this project I’ve come to realize it’s not just the coal that’s important; so what if the state uses coal as its main primary source of energy. The important thing is how many Kentuckians are already choosing sides, and getting involved. In most scenarios you can get involved in these groups by just dropping them a email saying how noble you really think their cause is.
Even though both of these groups are on the radical side of things, they both have the same goals, hopes, and dreams. One of the main goals is to pretty much educate uninformed citizens what’s going on around them. The other goals differentiate among the group members. Stephanie Banks, a member of Friends of Coal, says to me “I wonder if I’m on the right side of the battle…it’s hard to tell sometimes because I think about the future and I just look out of windows wondering, am I going to be a part of the group that destroys our natural beauty or am I going to be the one to make sure everything is going smoothly as we all had hoped?” Even though we were just sitting in a coffee shop in the middle of downtown Lexington, I could tell that Ms. Banks had truly been doing some thinking. Especially now that her nine year old son, Brady, has contracted asthma and since they live closer to the mountain ranges in eastern Kentucky; she suspects coal to be the main contributor to her son’s first asthma attack in early October. “I don’t blame the coal companies I blame those who let them get away with polluting the air”, Stephanie’s husband Mitch says as he walks toward the table. Mitch has also been a member of the Friends of Coal organization until late 2009; he switched sides and joined the Beyond Coal campaign. Mitch says it’s the best choice he ever made.
So in conclusion coal is a major factor in Kentuckians lives, you could just walk into the governor’s office and start speaking to one of the intern s and they’ll tell you their position on it. Whether it goes against the governor’s opinion or not, they have the right to free speech. Even though Friends of Coal might be an organization that supports coal, their organization is deeply rooted into the community. They are sincerely committed into making sure Kentuckians are informed and kept well aware of decisions that affect them. Beyond Coal however isn’t deeply rooted in the community, they would rather people join their cause off of knowledge about the organization rather than just hearing about it through a television commercial, or a print ad; but rather through communication of friends and families.” It’s better to have one group of friends doing something they all love together than to have a bunch a people who don’t know anything about the conversation but are just in it for the license plate”, which Mary Anne Hitt points out very clearly over the phone. Both groups may have very different standpoints on the topic however it is clear to me that they just want everyone to join a side and put forth effort to either end coal or make coal much safer for the environment. I would have to agree that coal is very bad for the environment but at the same time it is good for Kentucky’s economy. The debate about coal has a wide discussion base, so I encourage whomever is reading this to get involved and let you voice be heard.