Opinion: Why the environment matters


My attendance of the mountain top removal protest in Frankfort last Tuesday has drawn my attention to a different, yet extremely important political issue: how we deal with the environment.  

It is easy to get caught up in the horse race journalism of the GOP primaries and the reelection hype of Obama’s campaign, but we can’t lose sight of the issues right beneath our feet—literally. 

The environment is an issue that affects everyone. A fancy car and huge house may shield some from it for a while, but mother nature is far more powerful than any man-made invention. Either human beings will learn to preserve the integrity and beauty of nature, or we will suffer the consequences of a harmfully depleted atmosphere and world. 

This is the underlying premise of nearly all green legislation being proposed on both the state and federal level. On my visit to Frankfort, I got the chance to learn about a few pieces of legislation currently being proposed by Kentucky legislators.

House bill 231, also known as the stream saver bill, would prohibit the dumping of mountain top waste into nearby rivers and waterways. When the coal mining industry dumps this waste, it has environmental and health consequences far greater than most would suspect. 

There have been nearly 20 peer-reviewed scientific studies published over the past two years on the effects of mountain top removal. The KFTC, which organized the protest, highlighted three of the major findings.

One pointed out that mountain top removal and coal mining costs the state over 70 billion dollars in health care costs each year, and another showed that mothers who lived close to these sights had a 42% higher chance of giving birth to children with birth defects. 

Perhaps the most shocking study was done by Dr. Michael Hendryx, director of the West Virginia Rural Research Center at West Virginia University, which found that 60,000 cases of cancer in Appalachia are linked to the mountain top removal. It concluded that those living near mountain top removal sites had a doubled risk of getting cancer. The study was published in the Journal of Community Health in February of last year. 

This is, and should be, a nonpartisan issue. Objective scientific studies that link mountain top removal to birth defects and cancer shouldn’t have political partisanship.

But as Rep. Jim Wayne explained to us last Tuesday in the state’s capitol, big money and corporate interest is fettering the progress of any green legislation being passed. Similar to the fight against the tobacco industry in the 90’s, the coal mining industry is stubbornly standing in the way of the people and the victims who have proposed this legislation. 

But trying to convince the coal mining CEO’s and corporate lobbyist of the health and environment concerns is futile. Instead, the people must unite in solidarity, like they did in Frankfort last Tuesday, and stand up to the big money buying politicians. If the people can gather in big enough numbers and show politicians they care, the people can tip the scales of influence back to their side and out of the elites’ money filled hands. 

The fact is corporations are not people and do not have the same concerns as people. Corporations care about one thing and one thing only: money. Humans, on the other hand, care about our waterways, our trees, our birds, our bees, and most of all, other humans. This is why we must stand together in solidarity, and show support for new legislation to save our environment and the victims of reckless, apathetic destruction. 

It’s about the dying and suffering animals; it’s about the once-flowing waterways of our past; it’s about the child who will suffer with birth defects the rest of his life, and the child who’s yet to be born into them; it’s about the family at the doctor’s office who just got word of their mom’s cancer. These are the issues of tangible reality that transcend hypotheticals and conflicting party ideology. These are the issues we should be concerned about. These are the issues that matter. 

To fight this cause directly, call up your Kentucky representative and let them know you support this recent bill. Several representatives told us Tuesday that only a handful of calls can seriously change the stance they have on a bill. If these issues matter to you, influence your democracy and give them a call; it could make a big difference down the road.