WASHINGTON -- Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys shared his concerns about a coal mining practice with a Senate panel Thursday, and one lawmaker said she would accept the singer's offer of an aerial tour to see the environmental effects.
"When I move back home to Kentucky to raise a family on my farm, I want my kids to be able to fish and swim in the same places I grew up," said Richardson, who is in an environmental group called Just Within Reach.
He testified about mountaintop mining, a practice in which the top of a ridge or mountain is sheared off to expose a coal seam. Dirt and rock waste then is pushed into nearby valleys and waterways. Critics say the Bush administration is undercutting environmental laws with a rule encouraging such mining.
"I am not a scientist, but I know what I've seen in flights over the coal fields," Richardson told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
He invited members to join him on a flight to see the affected areas, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said she would accept his offer.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) defended his invitation to Richardson, whose testimony was criticized by one committee member.
"Mr. Richardson is here as more than a well-known celebrity," Lieberman said. "He is knowledgeable on this issue and has in fact worked to protect the environment in his home state. I believe his voice will add to our understanding of the issue."
Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) boycotted the hearing to protest the recent parade of celebrities to Capitol Hill, which has included Julia Roberts and Christie Brinkley.
"I object to those that are brought in for show business," Voinovich said when contacted after the hearing. "This witness was put in as an afterthought because someone thought it would add to the glamour of the hearing and attract media attention."
Earlier, Voinovich said it was a "joke" to think that Richardson could provide senators with information on important geological and water-quality issues.
"It's unfortunate that he's not here. I could have taught him something," Richardson said.
Richardson said drawing the media was his intention.
"That's entirely what I am here for. I am going to help mountaintop mining to be stopped," he said. "But to say that I am not educated on the issues and that I don't have anything to add to the issue is wrong. I have every right to be here."