In 2008, Perry County, Ky., Clerk Haven King got fed up with how the Lexington
Herald-Leader depicted mountaintop-removal mining in southeastern Kentucky.
"They showed pictures in there that just weren't true. They showed it as destruction," said King, who was a longtime coal operator before going into politics.
So King did what a lot of friends of coal have done in recent years: He organized a marketing campaign to put a better face on the industry.
"I called a meeting and I said, 'It's time for us to stand up and tell folks what we've really done out here,'" he said. "The amount of housing alone on mountaintop-removal mine sites, you would not believe. That's before you even get into the schools and the hospitals and the other employers that would not be possible without it."
(According to federal data, residential, commercial and industrial development was in for only 3 percent of the 19,728 acres released from surface-mining permits in Kentucky in the past two years. Most of the land would be left as open fields.)
King and several coal executives formed Coal Mining Our Future "to ensure that citizens are informed about coal industry activities," according to its mission statement. The group sponsors pro-coal rallies, encourages letters and phone calls to politicians, conducts surface mine tours to show the usefulness of flat land, makes charitable donations and distributes pro-coal T-shirts and bumper stickers, such as the now-ubiquitous decal declaring, "If you don't like coal, don't use electricity."
Backed by coal companies with interests in the area, including Arch Coal of St. Louis and James River Coal of Richmond, Va., Coal Mining Our Future spent more than $1.1 million in the past three years.
"Our goal was to educate people about coal," King said. "We've been able to take a lot of people out here and change their minds. I'll be the first to tell you that in those early years (of surface mining), we didn't do it right. But now the companies _ they take extraordinary steps toward reclamation so something can be done with the land afterward."
The group's annual coal rallies outside the Knott County Sportsplex near Hindman, Ky., draw as many as 15,000 supporters. Food and music are provided while a parade of speakers rip into President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency, tree-hugging protesters, the news media and big-city liberals who weep for lost mountains without appreciating how their electricity is made.
At the August 2009 coal rally _ dedicated to opposing curbs on greenhouse gas emissions _ then-Knott County Judge-Executive Randy Thompson climbed onto the stage to praise mountaintop removal. Leveling mountains employs people and creates flat land where businesses someday can be built to hire even more people, Thompson said.
"When they do that in Lexington, it's called development!" Thompson roared at thousands of faces in the audience. "But they tell us when we do it, it's devastation! I'm tired of it! Are you?"
"Yes!" the crowd shouted.
"I'm ready to tell them, 'I'm tired of it! You live the way you want to; we're going to do it the way we want to!' Are you with me?" Thompson roared.
"Yes!" the crowd shouted.
Nearby, one of many banners waving that afternoon showed train cars loaded with
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