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April 02, 2013

Huge Win Over Big Coal Preserves Historic Kentucky Landmark

KY coal

Big Coal's overreach turned into a huge win for healthy air and clean water supporters in Kentucky when a proposed permit for a coal ash pit recently went up in smoke.

Louisville Gas & Electric (LG&E) and Kentucky Utilities Energy had targeted a Trimble County natural cave to dispose of about one million tons of coal ash waste each year. The state Division of Solid Waste Management denied the permit, siding with grassroots organizers and volunteers who worked two years to defeat it. The decision followed a unanimous state House of Representatives resolution that urged LG&E to consider an alternative.

"This is tremendous news for Trimble County families," said Sonia McElroy (pictured), a farmer who lives near the proposed site and led local residents in opposing the plan.

LG&E’s permit request also demonstrated Big Coal's complete disregard for history and sensitivity, pushing for the proposal even after evidence surfaced that the targeted cave was part of the Underground Railroad of the 1800s, when slaves sought freedom north of the Ohio River. As if that weren't enough: It is "unlawful to remove, kill, harm or otherwise disturb any naturally occurring organism" in Kentucky caves.

"This is one of those rare cases where a group of concerned citizens, in a rural area, take on a major company and win.  There's still more work to be done, but this speaks to the tremendous efforts of the dedicated families in Trimble County," said Lauren McGrath, a Sierra Club organizer in Kentucky.  

This latest victory is another example of grassroots support continuing to build across the state. On Valentine’s Day, 1,500 Kentuckians marched and rallied at the state capitol to celebrate I Love Mountains Day. The rally was led by a coalition of groups demanding an end to mountaintop-removal mining.

The Beyond Coal movement is also resonating with young people on college campuses. Western Kentucky University has committed to moving beyond coal, and University of Kentucky students are rallying to kick coal money off campus

That being said, there will be more battles in the months to come.

"LG&E will probably come back with a new permit, and our residents are concerned about what the end game might look like," said Sierra Club National Organizing Director Bob Bingaman. "But for now we will enjoy this great victory for the people of Kentucky."

-- Brian Foley

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