An open letter to Ashley Judd: In Defense of Coal

I received this open letter to Ashley Judd. It was written by Janette Jude, a sixth grade language arts teacher from Inez Middle School in Martin County.

Ashley Judd’s comments regarding mountain top removal continue to stir controversy here in Eastern Kentucky.  We have received hundreds of comments on our website and Facebook pages.

Click here to watch Ashley Judd’s speech to the National Press Club.

The topic is also the subject of our current WYMT web poll.  Click here to vote.

I received this open letter to Ashley Judd.  It was written by Janette Jude, a sixth grade language arts teacher from Inez Middle School in Martin County.


Dear Ms. Judd,

       I recently listened to your luncheon speech on and I must say I was appalled by your words. The areas to which you referred, specifically Martin County, is my home. I have lived here my entire life. I’ve chosen to stay here, although this hillbilly is educated and could go anywhere. Unlike you, I not only have roots in eastern Kentucky, I have elected to grow and blossom in my beautiful state. My purpose in writing to you is twofold; first, I want to provide facts about the areas to which you referred, and secondly, I want you to understand how your disdain and promotion of the banning of mountain-top removal infringes on the employment and income of residents of eastern Kentucky.  You obviously have heard one side of the story regarding mountain-top removal. I am here to inform you of the other side.

Coal mining is an important industry to legitimate Kentuckians. It directly provides over 17,000 jobs to our state. The average annual salary for those jobs is $58,000. This doesn’t include jobs that are indirectly related to coal mining. Revenue from the mining industry has provided millions of dollars to not only our area, but to areas such as Lexington and Louisville. Coal tax dollars have actually benefitted central Kentucky almost as much as eastern Kentucky. Many people from our area who prosper directly or indirectly from coal spend money in larger areas of Kentucky, such as Ashland, Lexington, and Louisville. Many people from our area vacation in Tennessee, which incidentally brings revenue to your home state.

In my county, and others, coal revenue has provided a community center. Our community center offers entertainment, the opportunity for health improvement, and education to people in our area. Without the generosity of the coal industry, this would not have been possible. The coal industry has also donated money, time, the use of equipment, and various other things to our school systems.

Big Sandy United States Prison is less than ten minutes from my home. Since the prison has been built, I have never heard anyone refer to it as “Sink Sink.” I have asked several people who also say they have never heard of this reference. I even spoke with someone at the prison who was unaware of any foundation problems and considered the building a safe place to work. The prison and the surrounding communities boast a wonderful friendship. The prison employs around 360 people. The prison budget is $37 million dollars per year with $31 million accounting for salaries. Taxes from these salaries support roads and schools. The other six million is spent and re-spent in the local economy. The prison attempts to purchase locally as much as possible. Many people in our area have been given job opportunities with the arrival of the prison. Job opportunities from the prison have brought in others from out of the area. Several families visit the prison each week. Jobs from the prison and visitors to this area have an immense effect on our economy. Local businesses prosper from each job and visitor in our area. Without the reclaimed surface mine land, I can’t imagine another area here that could have housed such an enormous facility. Thank goodness we were able to provide such an area!

The reclamation site has also provided other facilities that have been advantageous to our area. Currently, the industrial site provides a number of jobs, not to mention other businesses on the industrial site that are no longer there. The reclamation site has made an airport available to our area. The airport has afforded businesses such as a medical flight service and a restaurant, not to mention the revenue to the area from the visitors who fly into the airport. Many people often drive to this area to enjoy the viewing of a variety of wildlife. I have personally seen deer, elk, turkey, coyotes, black bears, bobcats (we endearingly refer to them as wildcats in eastern Kentucky), rabbits, skunks, and unfortunately, a great deal of snakes on this reclaimed surface area. These animals don’t seem to mind the plentiful foliage that reclamation has provided, and don’t seem to be disturbed by the traffic that own the road built by coal tax dollars. As a child, I spent many hours in the mountains and never saw any of these animals.

The golf course that you spoke of in your speech is another facility that provides jobs. In the winter, around a dozen people are employed at the golf course. In the summer months, the golf course provides around thirty to forty jobs. And yes, “hillbillies” do golf. Richard Hale of Stone Crest Golf Course approximated between 100 to 150 people golf DAILY at this golf course. He informed me that of the fifty or so lots on the golf course, all were sold. That same reclaimed site offers four baseball fields, two softball fields, two soccer fields, and an equestrian ring. These facilities have been a wonderful gift to the children in our area. How is this so terrible for our community? Coincidentally, Richard Hale is from Michigan and told me that he remained in this area mostly because of this beautiful golf course. He described the area as spiritual. He said that every sunset on the mountain is a postcard. I was raised in a “holler” and I never witnessed such breathtaking sunsets as I did as while sitting on a reclaimed surface mine.

In your speech, you stated that there was no better home than Kentucky. If you believe this, why do you live in Tennessee and Scotland? How long has it even been since you’ve lived in Kentucky? You stated that you didn’t want to add to the stereotypes of Appalachians; however you managed to do so very well. Did you wonder why the Daltons were so defensive when you visited? It is because people here have to constantly worry about losing their jobs and homes.  Your “Avalon” is our home. It’s not an idealistic place that offers former residents the right to control because they want to come back once in a blue moon to connect with their people.

I am aware of what a fan you are of Kentucky basketball. That is a commonality we share. Did you know that the Joe Craft Center that was recently built was funded by coal? We are able to boast about this second-to-none facility due to coal. Craft has also formed a group of donors to raise money for the building of a housing facility for UK athletes, and I am proud to say, the facility will include the word coal in its title. I read that he once said that he couldn’t imagine Kentucky without coal. I have to agree with Craft.

Coincidentally, the developed areas in Lexington were not always shopping centers, other business or residential regions. Most areas there were once horse farms, yet nobody complained when progress literally paved its way into that area. The destruction of these farms to yield businesses is called progress there, yet you referred to our use of our land as rape. The double standard is puzzling, don’t you agree?

Your livelihood is not threatened by the banning of mountain-top removal, but mine is. I am a teacher in eastern Kentucky. When jobs are lost, people of our area are forced to leave. Without students, it would be impossible for me to teach in this area. Therefore, I am passionate about the coal industry in Kentucky. I resent outsiders that attempt to dictate our means of living. To relate to you how I feel, let me present a hypothetical situation. If I could reach a large number of people like you are able to do with your celebrity status, I would campaign against movies in which you lead. If people do not watch your movies, you are at risk of losing your job. Although, I’m sure you have plenty of money to live comfortably for the remainder of your life, it would most likely anger you that I could cause a threat to your occupation. My refusal to pay to see another of your movies is insignificant to you. However, your quest to encourage the ban of mountain-top removal is detrimental to me, my family, and my neighbors and it angers us.

I hope that my letter has educated you about the other side of coal. If you feel that it has been as saturated with sarcasm as your speech, then you read it as it was intended. I am not as well-spoken as you, but I hope that I articulated the importance and weight that coal and mountain-top removal are to eastern Kentucky. If the letter doesn’t convince you, then I encourage you to do two things. First, I invite you to allow me to give you a tour of our area so that you may see firsthand the evidence I have presented. Secondly, I suggest you turn off all the electricity in your home for about a week and see how easy you find living then. Coal keeps the lights on.


Janette Jude

A Face of Coal


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