FRANKFORT, Ky. - Fresh from her well-publicized skirmish with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin over aerial hunting of wolves, actress Ashley Judd delivered a broadside attack on the coal industry yesterday in Frankfort.
In a spirited speech before several hundred people who oppose strip-mining Appalachian mountains for coal, the Kentucky native railed against "the unchecked power of the coal companies" and lamented the loss of mountains that give the region's residents such a strong sense of identity.
"Let me be clear," she said. "Mountaintop removal mining is a tragedy. Mountaintop removal mining is a scourge on our land and on our people. It's killing our mountains - the very thing that produced us."
Judd was the highest-profile speaker at the annual "I Love Mountains" rally, held in support of a bill that's been bottled up in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee for several years.
Sponsored by Rep. Don Pasley, D-Winchester, the bill would restrict waste rock blasted from the sides and tops of mountains from being placed in the upper reaches of hollows, where natural streams are being buried.
Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence and the committee's chairman, did not return phone calls to discuss the bill.
The coal industry opposes it.
"I love mountains, too," said Bill Caylor, executive director of the Kentucky Coal Association, when asked in a telephone interview to comment on the rally.
But he said the bill would shut down enough mining operations to kill thousands of jobs, resulting in a loss of about $350million in direct payroll to Kentuckians.
In her speech, Judd cited how coal companies had made similar claims before - when fighting previous environmental or occupational safety reforms.
But now, she said, "the coal companies are bigger, badder and richer than ever."
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, said in an interview that he plans to introduce a bill in Congress to restrict the damage from mountaintop removal mining.
"We're going to put an end to this. We are going to stop this abomination on God's green Earth," Yarmuth said.
"If they don't listen to us in Kentucky, we'll take it (the battle) to Washington, D.C.," said Teri Blanton, a leader in the social justice group Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, which organized the rally.
In her speech, Judd talked about her family's roots in Eastern Kentucky, stretching back eight generations.
"I am very proud to be a hillbilly," she told the crowd, also mentioning her passion for University of Kentucky basketball.
Judd's recent clash with Palin, the former GOP candidate for vice president, gained widespread media attention after she worked with the group Defenders of Wildlife on an Internet video that criticized Alaska's wolf-control program, which is intended to increase the population of moose and caribou.