As Capitol Hill sit-ins against mountaintop removal mining spread to offices of central Appalachian members of Congress today, one arrest stands out in my mind as a litmus test for Kentuckians -- and all Americans, for that matter.
Despite three years of requests, Rep. Hal Rogers refused to simply meet with a "pro coal" 41-year veteran coal miner and retired federal mine inspector who supports underground coal mining, and instead, had Capitol Hill police arrest Stanley Sturgill, among six other Kentucky constituents.
It's bad enough that Rogers has been hailed as the most "corrupt member of Congress" by the non-profit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and his 5th District in eastern Kentucky also ranks at the bottom of the nation in virtually every quality of life indicator.
But is it OK for a member of Congress and his staff to disrespect a veteran underground coal miner and call for his arrest, when he is openly campaigning for MORE coal mining jobs through a transition from mountaintop removal mining to underground mining?
At least Rep. Nick Rahall believes enough in democracy to sit down and chat with his West Virginia constituents today -- before he had them arrested, assumingly for disturbing the peace. (The protests were part of an annual event called Appalachia Rising, which calls for abolition of mountaintop removal mining.)
In truth, Stanley Sturgill deserves the domestic equivalent of a Medal of Honor for risking his life in the underground mines in eastern Kentucky for four decades. Writing in The Hill this week, he chronicled his foiled attempts to meet with Rogers:
I've tried to secure a meeting with Hal Rogers since 2009 to discuss the problems troubling Eastern Kentucky. I'm coming to Washington because I'm tired of having a so-called representative for my home district that ignores our people to represent King Coal. I'm sick of seeing the people I love suffer every day from mountaintop removal.
For the past years, Sturgill has spurned his retirement and crisscrossed the state of Kentucky, meeting with state officials, community groups and whoever will listen with a simple message: Strip mining not only brings "destruction to our land, water, and health," but it strips jobs and the local economy. He wrote this past spring:
The governor wants to hide behind the claim that this is about jobs, but people know that strip mining and mountaintop removal do away with jobs. If the governor wants to put a shot in the arm of our economy, then he needs to wake up and stop the surface mining that not only hurts our chances to create a new energy economy, but that actually does harm to our health, our economy, and drains resources from the state budget.
Sturgill and a number of Kentuckians impacted by devastating strip mining operations came to Washington this week with three requests:
-- an immediate stop to mountaintop removal coal mining
-- a face-to-face meeting between Rogers and concerned citizens of Kentucky
-- a commitment to the diversification of Kentucky's economy, in particular redirecting coal subsidies toward energy efficiency, renewable energies and retraining for former miners.
Sturgill got a pair of handcuffs instead.
Fifty years after fellow eastern Kentuckian Harry Caudill warned the nation about the "rape of the Appalachians," Hal Rogers doesn't even have the decency to chat with veteran coal miners from his district.
Goddamn, Kentucky, is that OK?
Has Kentucky declared all discussion over mountaintop removal to be over?