“We blow up the most ancient mountains on the earth, reducing them to rubble to produce electricity we call ‘cheap’ and ‘clean’ What does that tell us about ourselves and our society?”
Teri Blanton responds to those who refer to clean coal by saying, “there is no such thing as safe coal or cheap coal. . . . Talk clean coal to people who can’t bathe in their own drinking water because acid mine drainage is running into their wells. Nothing is clean about coal.”
Blanton´s personal experience with the devastating effects of mountaintop removal mining and its impact on her community moved her to become a leader for environmental justice in Kentucky.
Blanton’s journey began in her hometown of Dayhoit, where the drinking water had become contaminated by dumping from a manufacturing plant. Blanton became a leader in educating her community about the dangerous health risks posed by the water they had been consuming. The area would eventually be declared a Superfund site; the polluting company trucked in clean drinking water for residents who continued to use contaminated water in their gardens and swimming pools.
Blanton said, “drinking poison water can really help you to understand how important clean water is.”
The fight for clean water in Kentucky is often linked to the issue of mountaintop removal mining (MTR). Blanton is a powerful voice against this destructive form of coal mining, which results in the destruction of Appalachian forests when the tops of ancient mountains are shorn off. Blanton and other activists are working with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth fight the pollution of streams and towns by the waste from coal processing and the disparity of wealth between coal companies and the rural communities where the mines are located.
Teri Blanton is a former chairperson of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KTFC), an organization that works “for a new balance of power and a just society . . . [using] direct action to challenge – and change – unfair political, economic and social systems.”
At the KTFC, Blanton initiated The Canary Project, named after the old mining practice of bringing canaries into the mines to check for toxic gases. When the gases became too dangerous for the canaries, the miners knew to leave the mine. Blanton says, “Now, we are the canaries, warning everyone about the dangers of coal before it is too late. We are building awareness . . . because everyone that breathes air, drinks water, and lives on this planet is affected by the production and burning of coal.”
KFTC and fourteen other groups from North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia have joined forces to form Alliance for Appalachia, realizing that together they are a stronger voice against MTR mining.
At the 2013 White House Women and the Environment Summit, Blanton was honored as a female leader in the environmental movement. She also served for several years on the Executive Council of the E.P.A’s. National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Says Blanton of what inspires her relentless work for environmental and economic justice, “I believe that people and the land should be treated with respect. I believe that governments should represent all of their citizens to the best of their ability, not just the ones with money and power.”
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