Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency are in Kentucky, touring areas in the eastern part of the state and meeting with residents who are concerned about the effect of coal mining on their communities.
At a community meeting last night in Whitesburg, the officials listened to residents describe their problems with coal dust, mountaintop removal blasting and the lack of state and local regulation enforcement.
“As we look at some of the things that are going on, we believe this area qualifies for extra environmental justice consideration,” says EPA Region Four administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming.
Environmental justice is the belief that pollution shouldn’t disproportionately affect groups like the poor or minorities. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who was not on the tour, has said in the past that achieving environmental justice throughout the country is one of her top priorities.
One of the common issues people mentioned was water. They say their water has been contaminated by mining or their wells ran dry after blasting cracked the water table.
Ada Smith lives in Letcher County. She left for four years to go to college on the east coast, and says she was bothered when her classmates began a campaign to stop people from drinking bottled water–they said it was bad for the environment. She says that isn’t a choice that people in the coalfields get to make.
“It was just one of these moments where I was like, why do these people get the opportunity to discuss how they want to have water and how they want to drink their water and how they want to spend money on water when we have to have a choice of whether we get water or not? I really want to have a choice if the rest of the country gets a choice,” she says.
The EPA officials will visit Lynch today.