We gathered in the mid-morning: four mountaintop removal activists venturing out for a tour of the 2,000 acre permit request in Rock Creek proposed for blasting. The haze had not yet burned off as we took the Jeep and headed up Rock Creek toward the top of the mountain. We passed homes both great and small, some with gardens, chickens, dogs, chain link fences, and residents mowing and weed eating. Soon the homes became farther apart and we rounded the corner at Workman’s Creek.
Stopping frequently for photographs, we navigated the bumpy, rock-and-boulder-strewn dirt roads — quite a difference from the freshly paved county road that lead up into the residential neighborhood and then ended abruptly. The hardwoods were full and lush and flowers bloomed wherever the light hit the forest floor. Finally, we began to see gas pipes along the dirt road along with several pumping stations. And, when we stopped at a peak, we could see across the valley toward Kayford Mountain.
No sooner had we exited the Jeep when Ed said, “Look there!” He pointed to the right side of the view of the strip mine operation where a white cloud ascended from the ground operation. The haze was still making things fuzzy, but the cloud was clear enough to make out.
We didn’t hear a boom. And it was much too early for the afternoon blast signifying explosive mountaintop removal, blowing chunks of coal, dust, heavy metals, toxic compounds, sequestered carbon, and everything else within the blast site skyward to rain down on the community — both human and wild.
The evidence of Big Coal’s extraction appears in stark contrast to the green, lush mountains: absent ridges, valleys, or contour, these are massive scars on the stumps of mountains, ugly, uninhabitable, unthinkable. Just for coal? So much destruction for $100 per ton?
The beauty, the biological diversity, the recreational opportunities, the very soul of Appalachia are all crumbling away.
These photographs depict what is still beautiful and intact, as well as what is being destroyed on a daily basis on the last mountains standing. See what we see and share what we know about the devastating effect of mountaintop removal. Pay particular attention to the blight upon these once thriving mountains and learn more about how you can help Climate Ground Zero end mountaintop removal.
Maria Gunnoe and Antrim Caskey after Gunnoe delivered the 22nd University of Michigan Wallenberg lecture in Ann Arbor, October
Maria Gunnoe has become one of the most powerful and effective voices in defense of the land and people of Appalachia. I first met Maria in New York City in May, 2005; she told me how Patriot Coal’s 1200-acre mountaintop removal site, in her backyard since 2000, had turned her life upside down. Three days later, I was at Maria Gunnoe’s home-place in Bob White, WV, to witness for myself.
Maria opened my eyes to the human and environmental costs of coal, particularly mountaintop removal coal mining.
Despite growing national awareness, he atrocities of mountaintop removal coal mining continues, 24/7. But over the past several years, a growing body of scientific studies has emerged, directly correlating severe human health costs to breathing the poisonous dust that comes off these sites.
Bo Webb and his neighbors have built a campaign around these health studies, more than twenty now that have been published in peer–reviewed journals. These studies tell us that a non-smoking pregnant woman who lives near a mountaintop removal site is 180% more likely to bear a baby with birth defects compared to a woman who smokes cigarettes during her pregnancy, but does not live underneath a mountaintop removal site.
Bo Webb and a small team have used the studies to educate our lawmakers over the past years. As a result, we have a bill in Congress that will end all new mountaintop removal coal mining, the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE), HR 5959. The ACHE team runs a bare-bones citizen lobbying campaign out of their Washington, DC-based office. Currently the ACHE Act has 27 sponsors, all Democrats.
“We want to approach the Republican side now. What better bill than the ACHE Act that the two sides can work together on. To show the American people. It saves lives and will save money,” said Bo Webb from his home in West Virginia. The ACHE team is planning a blitz on Washington, DC next week.
The first stop on our tour was Minneapolis, MN, where my dear friends Ariel and Jeff now reside with their two daughters.
We spoke to Ariel’s co-workers at Caldrea, as part of their monthly in-house education series,”Lunch and Learn.” We introduced them to Appalachian people directly affected by mountaintop removal coal mining — Maria, Ed, Judy, Larry, Bo and the places in West Virginia — Marsh Fork, Kayford, Rock Creek, and Bob White where they lived. Afterwards, almost everyone took a copy of Dragline. Some spoke up during the talk and described how surface mining has marred their local landscapes. We told them about the ACHE Act when they asked, “What can we do?”
Our next stop: Madison, WI, where my godfather Doug Moore is the current interim minister at the First Congregational Church, an historically progressive congregation, knew hardly anything about mountaintop removal coal mining.
On Friday, October 19, the church hosted a potluck dinner, a screening of The Last Mountain, and a Q&A afterwards. At Sunday’s service, we brought our message and the cries for help from West Virginia into the church. I was invited to deliver a homily. Doug’s sermon spoke of the actions around good stewardship to the land.
The most poignant part of the service was A Time With Children, when the children gather on the small steps below the alter. We decided to tell them the story of Marsh Fork Elementary because these were children of the same age. As we sat just a few feet from their inquiring eyes, their beautiful faces, I could not speak — staring into the future that lay before us. Fortunately, Doug took over, he told the story of the children of Marsh Fork Elementary.
After a welcome cocktail reception and dinner, we all sat in Rackham Hall, the favorite building of the whole campus I was told, and listened to the extraordinary introduction and story of Raoul Wallenberg, followed by Maria Gunnoe’s slide lecture, followed by questions from the audience of the University of Michigan community. Many students in the audience had been shown the powerful documentary, The Last Mountain, in anumber of different classes in the days leading up to Maria’s visit. Some of them were fired up; propelled toward action by Maria’s testimony.
On the train to Washington, DC the day afterwards, Maria told me how over the six days she’d spent at University of Michigan, she had spoken to almost twenty different groups of students. She told me that she was using Dragline as a tool to help educate and activate the students and she told me how she gave them the latest tool that could end the atrocities of mountaintop removal coal mining, she told them all about the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) ACT.
Most people I met in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan had not heard about the human health impact of mountaintop removal coal mining, but they were outraged and concerned to learn that citizens were breathing the dust that contains diesel fuel, ammonium nitrate, silica dust and coal dust. And that 5.5 million pounds of explosives are used every day in mountaintop removal coal mining — forcing citizens to breathe this poison every day.
We welcome our new friends of Appalachia Watch. Please join us in our fight. Visit the ACHE Team today: learn more, sign the petition, and ask your Congressperson to support the ACHE Act.
Our last stop was Washington, DC to give a TEDxtalk on October 27 as part of TEDx MidAtlantic 2012. The video podcast of my TEDx talk will be available soon.
Thank you as always for your interest and your support !
As a resident of the Coal River Valley in Raleigh County, West Virginia, I sat in a meeting with a handful of Appalachian Ambassadors at Congressman Nick Joe Rahall’s office on July 13, 2011 in Washington, DC. It was stunning to see the 18th-term Congressman stare in silence — his only real reply — as Bo Webb, Maria Gunnoe and Vernon Haltom described the horror and the heartbreak of living with the long-term effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. Armed with the latest Hendryx report, which cites the connection between increased chance of birth defects in newborns with living near mountaintop removal operations, these Power-Hillbillies put this latest evidence in front of a distracted Rahall and announced their demand for an immediate moratorium on mountaintop removal. Rahall had nothing to say other than trying to pass the buck, first to, Alpha Natural Resources (Massey Energy’s new name), then Office of Surface Mining (OSM). What we witnessed in Representative Nick Joe Rahall’s office is what Bobby Kennedy Jr calls the “subversion of democracy in the state of West Virginia,” and we stared back in silence, in anticipation, as Rep. Rahall, stone dead in the eyes, the dome of the Capitol filling the large window behind him, said nothing to us West Virginians demanding to be represented.
This is what the subversion of democracy looks like in West Virginia, where sprawling corporations have woven their money-hungry tentacles all throughout the Appalachians in search and removal of coal, seizing more that 550 mountaintops and 5000 miles of headwater streams; annihilating hundreds of mountain hamlets, so many treasures, spurned with contempt. All of the normal paths to correct injustices like Massey’s chronic corporate nuisances, like the courts and regulatory agencies, have been compromised beyond belief. Instead, West Virginians face a state Supreme Court where the Chief Justice Brent Benjamin was elected with 3 million dollars of help from the local coal company, Massey Energy.
Kucinich to Coal River Mountain – Images by antrim caskey
Finally, it was Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio who heard us during the House Oversight Committee hearing where Rep. Kucinich proposed a visit to see the atrocities he’s been hearing so much about, especially in the brilliant new documentary, The Last Mountain. Kucinich repeatedly demanded that he “wants to view specific sites in the Coal River Valley.” We anticipate Congressman Kucinich’s visit and we would welcome Congressional investigations into the health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. It is imperative that you act on this issue.