By Avalon Gupta VerWiebe, DuPont Manual High School, Louisville, KY
For the past couple months, the pressure has been building on elected officials in Kentucky to diversify the state’s energy portfolio and invest more in an economy that utilizes larger amounts of renewable energies, specifically through the passage of legislation such as the Clean Energy Opportunities Act (HB 195). This effort has been led by a diverse coalition of stakeholders in the state, but has seen particularly strong participation from young Kentuckians. Orchestrated by the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition, Wednesday, January 29th was created to be a call-in day, where supporters–youth supporters in particular–would call and leave a message for their representatives urging them to recognize the benefits of a green economy in the bluegrass and pass HB 195. This is the backdrop for the story that unfolds below.
At about 8:00 AM, Cara Cooper, State Organizer with KSEC aged 27, left a message for her representative urging support of HB 195 without any issues, but when she heard the news that Representative Keith Hall, chairman of the House Committee on Tourism Development and Energy, agreed to hold a hearing for the bill, she called back to leave a message with Rep. Hall thanking him.
“The first thing that they asked me is ‘How old are you?’” said Cara “I was really confused as to why she would ask me that, but I told her that I am 27. Then she said ‘Ok, you sound really young and I’ve been told not to take messages from people under 18.’ And then she took my message.”
As youth started to call-in from across the state, others reported being questioned for sounding too young–especially those in high school. Many were turned away when they told the phone operators they were under the age of 18. “They said I wasn’t old enough and had to be 18 to actively show my support for the bill.” said Daisy Borders, a student at DuPont Manual in Jefferson County aged 17. Plenty of other youth received the similar responses, being denied the ability to leave a comment for their representatives.
Eliza Devlin, a student at Atherton High School aged 17, says that before she called to urge her state representative to vote for the passing of House bill 195 she was warned by fellow students that she may be turned away for being too young. “It is offending and belittling that because of my age, I can’t voice my opinion.” said Eliza, “After all, it seems to me that the people this bill will be effecting most will be the people my age because soon we will be adults and have to deal with environmental problems and climate change. I don’t think its right that my voice isn’t allowed to be heard, because the amount of years is no measure to the knowledge and advocacy a person can bring to any cause."
The question that needs to be asked of this situation is: does being under the age of 18 in Kentucky, or anywhere in this country, prevent you from being able to voice your opinion to an elected official? And the answer is no. The Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition has asked Assistant Director of the Legislative Research Commission Roy Collins to find out immediately why these young people were turned away since there are no policies on the LRC or any other state agency's website that define any age limits on participating in our state’s democratic process. The youth voice is one of the most important constituencies that legislators work for; it is crucial that it is not muted out, as it is the literal future of Kentucky.
By Tyler Offerman
Kentucky has long been known as an energy producing state, since coal was discovered here in 1750. That means that Kentucky started to produce energy that fueled our nation's growth since before our nation even existed! But for some time now, our state's energy economy has been stumbling and failing to deliver a healthy and robust economy with jobs that benefit our communities and environment. Brad Plumer recently wrote a piece in the Washington Post about why Central Appalachia's coal industry is in decline; from the mechanization of coal mining and the transition to mountaintop removal strip mining, to the rise of and competition from low-sulfur coal mining in the West and fracked natural gas from across the nation, to new EPA regulations on harmful polutants and greenhouse gas emissions. There are many reasons why the Appalachian coal-industry is in decline, a fact that many of my peers cheer as being a victory for the environmental movement. But it is important for us to think about the impacts of this industry in decline.
In many Appalachian communities, coal is still king. The coal industry has done an amazing job of creating the illusion of monolithic economies in both eastern and western Kentucky. A lot of these economies are centered around coal because coal corporations have driven away most other industries, both in the energy sector and outside of it. While we need to take back our economies so they can be diversified to create lasting and stable opportunities for all Kentuckians, it's important to remember that these economies are made up of people. With these coal-centric industries stagnating and failing to diversify, what will happen to the people that depend on them. Many of whom do not want to depend on coal, but have no other choice. Where will we go to find jobs as the coal-industry fails us? How will we pay our mortgages? Feed our families? And for us young people, how will we stay in Kentucky? For generations Appalachia has suffered from brain-drain, when young people move away due to lack of opportunities. For too long the choice of young people in many parts of Kentucky has been "Work in the mines" or "Get out of dodge". Young people in Kentucky are now faced with an even tougher choice since there will now not even be the "Work in the mines" option, with Kentucky having lost tens of thousands of coal related jobs in the past 20 years and even more loses on the horizon.
That is why young Kentuckians are taking our destinies into our own hands. We believe that Kentucky can continue to be an energy producing state, one that is not toally dependent on coal or natural gas, neither of which are the energies of the future. A renewable energy economy is the only thing that will be able to create the manufacturing and energy jobs that are desperately needed in Kentucky. Young people will not stay and watch the coal industry collapse, but we will stay to help build a healthy, thriving and green economy. An economy with wind-turbines on mountain ridges and on the banks of the Kentucky river. An economy that values the promises of pensions and worker safety. An economy that has growth and inovation at it's core. That's why this year Kentucky youth will work with thousands of our peers and neighbors to push for renewable energy legislation that sets that stage for the birth of Kentucky's new energy economy.
Will you stand in solidarity with us? Sign our petition: http://bit.ly/17rsvgZ and help us build the movement!
The Young Kentuckian is a blog of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition where youth share their work and ideas for Kentucky's bright future.
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