Ashland-born actress Ashley Judd told a crowd of 500 on the Capitol steps Tuesday that Kentucky deserves to be "first in line" to get federal stimulus package money to create green collar jobs.
Because of the enormous price that's been paid to supply America with electricity from Kentucky coal for a hundred years, she said.
"The price has been so much more than the figure folks see on their utilities bill each month," Judd said. "The cost has been our people, our environment, our pristine streams, our wildlife, our health and even our lives."
Judd was the star of this year's "I Love Mountains Day" rally, sponsored annually by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a statewide environmental group trying to stop mountaintop removal through a "stream-saver bill," (HB 104 and SB 100).
Mountaintop removal mining is a practice in which peaks are leveled with explosives and heavy machinery to extract coal.
State Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, and state Rep. Don Pasley, D-Winchester, are sponsoring legislation that would bar coal companies from dumping soil and rock from mountaintop removal operations into valleys.
However, similar bills have failed in the Kentucky legislature each of the past four years.
Before the rally, Frankfort's Bruce Scott - immediate past president of Kentucky Waterways Alliance " predicted the bill has "no chance" to be enacted by the legislature this year.
"It's going to take some changes in how our people are represented in the legislature" before a stream-saver bill is approved, Scott said.
"The committees that consider it are mainly coal field representatives and it's not in their interest to pass that bill."
Scott said he'd like to see the membership change in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee "so it is more representative of all of Kentucky and not just the coal fields."
A large crowd at the rally for the second straight year gives Scott "realistic hope" that change will eventually come, he said.
"I think we have to maintain the pressure on different fronts and this is an important one " the legislature."
Scott said he suspects most Kentuckians would support the stream-saver bill, "which is reasonable. It says the waste you take off the mountain you put back on the mountain. You don't put it in valleys."
KFTC says 1,400 miles of streams have been buried or polluted by mountaintop removal.
The Kentucky Coal Association has contended the legislation would cripple the mining industry, forcing companies to lay off workers while driving up the cost of coal and electric bills around the nation.
Speaking to the crowd, Judd said coal is a "finite 19th century resource and this is the 21st century. It is time and we are ready for new power, modern power like solar and wind.
"Enough sunlight hits the surface of our beautiful planet in one hour to actually power the entire world population and its needs for a year. We want to see our Kentucky political leaders make use of that fancy little fact. Stop spending our tax dollars to subsidize coal companies."
Instead, invest in new solutions like a solar panel factory, she said.
"One solar panel has 4,000 parts," Judd said. "Imagine the jobs that could create in eastern Kentucky."
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Louisville), who spoke before Judd, said, "There is light at the end of the tunnel. There are now more people employed in the wind power industry in the United States than there are in the coal industry.
"I love coal miners, I love the UMW and I don't want to take away their livelihood. But we can give them a livelihood without destroying our planet."
Yarmuth said mountaintop removal has not improved the lives of people in Appalachia.
"Keep up the energy, keep up the faith," Yarmuth told the demonstrators. "We are going to work in WashingtonWe are going to stop this abomination on God's earth. With your help we are going to do it."
After the rally, Franklin County's Andy McDonald, coordinator of the Kentucky Solar Partnership, said he believes the public has become more aware of the importance of using clean, renewable energy.
"It's gotten harder for new power plants to get permitted," McDonald said. "We have a governor now who recognizes climate change is happening, and he recognizes we have to do something about it."
McDonald's wife, Connie Lemley, said, "Far more people today are talking about what comes after coal than they were a year ago. More people are talking about green collar jobs and saying we need a green economy."
Besides marching with hundreds of others up Capital Avenue to the Capitol Tuesday morning, Lemley and her 7-year-old daughter, Eleanor, participated in KFTC's two-day Lexington to Frankfort "Walk to Stop Mountaintop Removal."
About 40 others joined them on the 27.8-mile route and Eleanor said she never got tired.