Mrs. Hill went to Washington ... and came down on the side of the mountains.
Joanne Golden Hill, a Burnside resident with deep roots in the community, spent last week in Washington D.C. with the Alliance for Appalachia group, which bills themselves as “a regional coalition” dedicated to ending the practice of coal mining by mountaintop removal.
Mountaintop removal has become a significant issue in Kentucky, and a highly controversial one, striking at the heart of the age-old struggle between the drive of industry and concern about the environment. Explosives are used to expose coal seams on mountains, with the land known as “overburden” being moved, often radically changing the landscape and resulting in pollution. Proponents of coal mining have often countered that mountaintop removal is a cost-efficient way of getting their job done — but it’s not that okay by Hill, a product of the Bluegrass state’s mountain region.
“Ending mountaintop removal is very important to me for many reasons,” said Hill, who is originally from Lynch, Ky. — one of the communities surrounding Black Mountain, the highest such natural structure in the state.
“I have witnessed my cemeteries marked for destruction on Black Mountain by the coal company,” she continued. “My family living in these areas loses land and life to mountaintop removal ... and they are left with toxic water and destruction.”
Hill stated that cancer rates are 50 times higher in areas affected by mountaintop removal practices, with a steep spike in birth defects as well.
“I have seen this and have done water testing in eastern Kentucky on the toxic streams that run by houses,” said Hill. “The land bleeds orange from acid mine drainage. It also comes out the faucet where they drink and bathe.”
It’s something Hill would very much like to see stop. As a member of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Southern Appalachia Mountain Stewards groups, Hill went to participate in the 8th Annual “End Mountaintop Removal Week” in the nation’s capital, which ran May 4-8.
One of the key people that those participating wanted to have a word with was Somerset’s own Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, the Republican U.S. Representative from the Fifth District in Kentucky, representing the mountain region of the state.
Hill said on her visit to Rogers’ office, the Congressman came in while the activists were talking with his staffer Travis Cone. Rogers took the time to listen to children the group brought along tell him all about the harmful effects of mountaintop removal, and had his picture taken with the youth, said Hill.
“Then Hal had his picture made with Teri Blanton and myself,” said Hill “Teri Blanton was one of the people that was arrested last year during the sit-in at Hal’s office when we demanded him to meet with us, but were refused.”
According to Hill, Rogers declined to meet with Blanton and herself that day on the mountaintop removal issue, but they did discuss “several issues” with Cone, a legislative assistant, including her fear of the Sloans Valley cave system in southern Pulaski being at risk from mining destruction.
The answers Hill and her fellow activists got were — according to her — not what they wanted to hear.
“Travis Cone gave no one any good news,” she said. “(He) only defended putting the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) down for doing their job and protecting us.”
Hill also met with Third District Congressman John Yarmuth, a Louisville Democrat, and Lewis County Republican Thomas Massie, the Fourth District Representative. “That was a good lobbying visit,” she said. “... We talked about supporting the Clean Water Protection Act.”
Introduced a few years back, the Clean Water Protection Act would mandate that fill material cannot be comprised of mining waste.
“Passing this legislation would protect the nation's rivers, streams and lakes from being used as dumps for mining waste. “It’s a simple piece of legislation ... saving also the destruction of the Appalachian Mountains that are left standing proud.”
Hill, along with other members of the Alliance for Appalachia, delivered toxic water from Kentucky and surrounding mountain states — Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia — and a list of demands to the EPA, and requested that Nancy Stoner, deputy assistant administrator of the EPA’s water office, for the federal organization come and collect the water and petition.
“Teri Blanton called her office and told them we was not leaving till she came to collect toxic Appalachian water,” said Hill.
According to Hill, whose great-uncle John Golden built and owned the original Seven Gables Hotel in Burnside, her own home turf in southern Pulaski is at risk as well as the far eastern part of the state.
“There is concern by myself and other residents of the area of damage to the Sloans Valley cave system and the historical crystal cave located in this area,” she said. “There is also concern of acid mine drainage to Lake Cumberland. Dye testing has proven water from Sloans valley cave system drains into Lake Cumberland.”