Last week, Rick Handshoe of Floyd County talked with Governor Steve Beshear about the acid mine drainage in the settlement pond above his home. Handshoe was one of the Appalachia Rising activists who occupied the governor’s Frankfort offices over Valentine’s Day weekend in an act of civil disobedience. As part of the conditions for leaving his office, the Appalachia Rising activists made Beshear promise to visit Eastern Kentucky in the spring and talk with people living around the region’s coal mining sites.
Leading up to last week’s trip to Eastern Kentucky, Beshear had openly embraced the power, influence and destruction of out-of-state coal companies plundering the region. Recently, the Kentucky governor had joined a lawsuit against EPA guidelines designed to protect our drinking water from the poisons unearthed through the mining of coal. In January, Beshear increased his public attacks on the federal agency, braying to the entire state in a publicized address that the EPA should “get off [King Coal’s] backs.”
Thus far, Beshear seems to have been little moved by his trip east to view Handshoe’s poisoned watershed. Nor does he seem to have been moved by the diverse collection of Lynch City Council members, public servants like himself, black and white, women and men, not to mention other citizens from the region, all of whom came to err their grievances with the state’s most powerful public servant. Yet even as he faced the forgotten citizens of Lynch, the governor was careful to inflate the need for a fair, equal balance between the needs of out-of-state coal companies and in-state lands, resources and people.
“We want to enforce our rules and our laws that balance a need for responsible mining,” Beshear stated to the citizens of Lynch and other mountain communities, “and protecting our environment and protecting our water.”
Interviewed by the Herald Leader, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth member Doug Doerrfeld, who was present to hear Beshear’s responses, noted that the governor failed to take a defined position on his vision for post-mining economic development for the region, a surprising evasion for a sitting governor visiting a one-industry region like Eastern Kentucky. “I don’t think he really gave clear answers,” Doerrfeld told the paper.
Here in Lexington, this paper and the online news site Barefoot and Progressive have called attention to this city’s enthusiastic and tacit support for the coal mining industry. This paper has called upon important area leaders Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, UK President Lee Todd, and UK Basketball coach John Calipari to define their positions on coal extraction of the likes that has poisoned Handshoe’s water. Thus far none have responded though all enjoy positions as leaders who engage their public, as people who are not afraid of tough decisions.
Politically and morally, Rick’s cares should be, in part, our cares. We are Kentuckians together, and whether we like it or not, we share a common commonwealth covenant. By very nature of our geography, of our location here, his grievances are, contractually speaking, ours.
Here in Lexington and on towns along the state’s great waterway, the Kentucky River, we ought to have an even more intimate reason to care about Rick Handshoe and his orange, tainted water. The same fouled water that leaches into back holler, politically under-represented Eastern Kentucky creeks also collects into larger tainted streams that funnel into the Kentucky River.
Less than 20 miles from where the last of these tainted Appalachian waterways, the Red River, enters the Kentucky, a pipe collects Kentucky River water to slake the many thirsts of the denizens of the city of Richmond. About 20 miles beyond that, not far from where Tates Creek Road crosses the Kentucky at Valley View Ferry, a water station pumps Eastern Kentucky river-water into Lexington, Horse Capital of the World and our Kentucky home, little accumulating bits of Eastern Kentucky coal overburden bound for our own taps and leaching into our own bodies.
Let’s make our leaders, here in Lexington as in Frankfort and Pikeville and Beattyville, care about Rick’s water.