I received this letter from Brad Parke of Knott County. Brad graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with degrees in Political Science and Public Administration. He works as a consultant in Hindman, Ky.
I should mention Brad was recently added to the East Kentucky Leadership Foundation Board. I am also a member of that board.
The recent public comments by Ms. Ashley Judd regarding the people of East Kentucky, the practice of mountaintop removal, and the coal industry in general, struck a nerve with many Kentuckians, rightfully so. Coal, particularly the practice of mountaintop removal, has been, and will continue to be, a controversial subject of debate as America moves toward “clean energy” and “energy independence.” That issue is out of the scope for this argument.
Ashley makes several plausible statements within her arguments, and she is well within her rights to do so. However, Ms. Judd misses the point in the fact that she does not, nor likely will she ever, actually live in East Kentucky. She refers to coal industry leaders as “cunning, callous and greedy outsiders.” Her views toward the region can be viewed as much of the same.
In his 1962 book Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area, the late Whitesburg author, lawyer, and professor, Harry Caudill, shed light to the nation about the social and economic distress prevalent throughout the coalfields of Central Appalachia. This provocative book, written by one of our own, ruffled the feathers of many people living both within and outside of the region. It also caught the attention of the federal government. Caudill, an outspoken critic of the coal industry, become somewhat of a spokesperson for Appalachia. However, not only did Harry Caudill advocate for change in the region, but he also lived here. He was one of us. He understood the role coal played in the region, but realized perplexities often associated with it. Caudill, although controversial, had a vested interest in advocating for change in Appalachia, not only because his observations and personal convictions, but because he lived here.
Presently, environmentalists, including Ashley Judd, “lash out” against our coal industry through press conferences, propaganda, books, scholarly articles and rallies in Frankfort and Washington D.C. This vilification of the coal industry comes with little willingness to understand the positive impact coal, and mountaintop removal, has for the people of East Kentucky and American society. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that many of these environmentalist don’t even live here. They do not understand.
There is no denying the continued diversification our region’s economy, to one not as reliant on the “boom and bust” conditions associated with the demand for coal, would reap benefits for East Kentucky. However, many of the changes advocated for by environmentalists are not only off base, but simply unrealistic. Ashley Judd, who refers to East Kentucky as the place her family has called home for many generations, and which she adamantly proclaims to be so “proud” of, chooses to live outside the area. It is quite possible she is as out of touch as the “cunning, callous and greedy outsiders” she mistakenly portrays the coal industry leaders to be.
Mountaintop removal provides jobs for our people, flat land for development and energy for America. However, it is apparent; one can’t fully appreciate these positive impacts unless one actually lives here.
Many people in East Kentucky would likely be more receptive to Ms. Judd’s criticisms of coal if she, like Harry Caudill, actually chose to reside here. I commend Ashley Judd on her success as an actress, her recently obtained degree from Harvard, and her continual support of our UK Wildcats. However, this does not qualify her to be a spokesperson for our region, a region which she obviously does not understand.
Brad Parke, 25, of Knott County, graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with degrees in Political Science and Public Administration. He is working as a consultant in Hindman, Ky.
Here are my previous blog posts regarding this topic. We have received hundreds of comments from both sides on our website and the WYMT Facebook page.
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