Editor’s Note: In an effort to include a more diverse and varied set of voices in the Appalachian Transition conversation, Renew Appalachia will begin featuring posts from guest bloggers on a semi-regular basis. The following is the first blog in that effort. It is important to note that the views and opinions expressed in this guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Renew Appalachia or of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED).
On August 2, members of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition from across the state attended the Fancy Farm picnic. We knew it was going to be loud, festive, and very pro-coal in tone, which was precisely why we went.
Our KSEC advisors, Tyler [Offerman] and Cara [Cooper] built a wind turbine out of a used bicycle frame mounted on PVC pipe. Attached to our wind turbine was the sign “If Only Kentucky Ran on Hot Air!” Our plan was to crank the wind turbine whenever a politician said something ill-informed, although after our arms got tired we soon decided to only crank the windmill if the statement was particularly vapid or related to coal or climate change. I think that helped a little.
We arrived in two cars with plenty of signs and a game plan in mind. We were going to collect signatures for our petition supporting the Clean Energy Opportunities Act to increase funding for alternative energy sources in Kentucky. Then we were going to use those signatures when election season came up to pressure politicians to take a stance supporting increased funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy. (Editor’s note: MACED supports the Clean Energy Opportunity Act because, in addition to increasing Kentucky’s renewable energy portfolio, it would increase investment in energy efficiency, which we believe would help spur economic growth – specifically energy efficiency contracting jobs – in eastern Kentucky. Energy efficiency is a burgeoning sector in the region, and putting more investment into it is one of the many strategies MACED believes will help eastern Kentucky reach a brighter economic future.)
Kentucky has a long history of coal mining, and that industry enjoys many benefits from the government that renewable energies don’t get. More than that, Kentucky has a longstanding culture of honoring the courage of coal miners and supporting the growth of the industry. Compounding that, I think most of us KSEC’ers believe many politicians hold to a stereotype that young voters are a low-priority constituency.
That’s why we felt it was important to show politicians that if they publicly took an environmentalist stance, voters (and especially young voters) would have reason to support them. Some of us had been preparing for media interviews, so they were exempt from the petitioning part if they wanted. They all chose instead to pull double duty. I thought that gesture spoke a lot about the commitment of our experienced activists and leaders.
During the day’s festivities, several KSEC members were able to strike up a discussion with retired coal miners from Western Kentucky. Personally, that was my highlight of the trip. The miners maintained that regulations on coal mining as a political stance was not actually going to help stop pollution in light of the burgeoning use of coal power plants in the developing world.
We were able to find a point of agreement with the retired miners that western Kentucky doesn’t have enough mining jobs, or even jobs like trucking that cater to the mining industry, to employ the population. I think our environmental organization in a conservative state has to operate by showing average people that our heads aren’t stuck in the clouds. We’re not in this fight to ruin the economy; in fact, we want it to be stronger and more diverse.
A couple of KSEC’ers, including one from a family of coal miners, continued the conversation even after the speeches were over. I never confirmed it, but afterwards I heard secondhand that one of the miners did sign our petition.