February 21, 2012

U of L <3 Mountains: University of Louisville students gather at the Capitol in opposition of mountaintop removal

By Rae Hodge–

FRANKFORT — Hoisting pinwheels and picket signs under a rainy sky, U of L students gathered on the steps of the Capitol in Frankfort with nearly 1,200 other citizen activists on Valentine’s Day to celebrate Kentucky’s annual I Love Mountains Day. Among the student groups in attendance was Group Recycling and Sustainable Solutions of U of L Sustainability.

From noon to 2 p.m., the protesters called for an end to mountaintop blasting and destructive surface mining practices known as mountaintop removal, or MTR, a process of exploding topsoil and vegetation in order to expose coal seams in mountains. Speakers at the rally expressed support for House Bill 231, more commonly known as the Stream Saver Bill, and House Bill 167, the Clean Energy Opportunity Act. Respectively, the bills aim to protect waterways affected by surface mining and to encourage the development of a variety of renewable energy sources. The protests concluded with a march to the nearby governor’s mansion.

Ketti Tonnemacher, a U of L staffer protesting in the rain, said “I think it’s an important issue for all students as we develop responsibilities to our community. I think it’s important for students to get involved on a local, regional, state level. This is something that’s happening in our state. [MTR] isn’t happening in New York. This isn’t happening in California. This is happening in Kentucky and we, as residents of the state, have a responsibility to do something about it.”

Mountaintop removal is a controversial topic due to a byproduct known as valley fill. During Mountaintop mining valley fill is often dumped into nearby valleys where streams and rivers run and this can damage the local ecosystem.

I Love Mountains Day is a protest almost exclusive to residents of Appalachian communities. The process is most common in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Students join other groups from across Kentucky to protest the mining practice. Mountaintop removal mining dates back to the 1960s.

Senior communications and American Sign Language majors Jessica Harbolt and Abby Riggs held their picket signs aloft from beneath umbrellas. Harbolt said, “So many people are affected by it — the community and homes are affected. It’s important that we not do [mountaintop removal] anymore to protect our environment.”

“We should all care. That’s part of our environment and our history and we need to protect it,” said Riggs.

HB 231, sponsored by Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, has been referred and received into the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, while HB 167, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, has been received into the House Committee on Tourism Development and Energy.

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Photo: Rae Hodge/The Louisville Cardinal

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