Seven simple steps to save Appalachia

“Clean” Coal’s Dirtiest Secret: Part IV – final in a series

Coal River Mountain from Kayford Mountain
Coal River Mountain from Kayford

Coal River Mountain is one of the highest and wildest peaks in West Virginia. Unlike much of the surrounding region, it is unscarred by surface mining. But Massey Energy and WV Governor Joe Manchin are out to change that. Subsidiaries of Massey propose to blow away 6,600 acres of Coal River Mountain — nearly 10 square miles — and the governor’s office has issued the permits. If the operation goes forward, one of the last remaining summits in the Coal River Valley will be leveled.

Despite an acclaimed local campaign to build a wind farm atop Coal River Mountain that would provide green jobs, tax revenues and sustainable energy for up to 150,000 homes for decades to come, state politicians know who lines their campaign coffers. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has rejected the public input of a majority of state citizens who support the wind project, in favor of Massey’s plans to begin imminent blasting.  But opponents are not giving up.  If anything, the fight for Coal River Mountain has only heightened attention and galvanized action.

Close-up of explosive methods used in MTR mining
Close-up of explosive methods used
in MTR mining

Mountaintop removal (MTR) mining is a fast and cost-efficient way to get at the rich coal seams buried within these lush, old mountains. As the coal industry seeks to keep profits high and power cheap for a nation of profligate energy consumers, Coal River Valley residents remain among the nation’s poorest, struggling to support their families’ health and economic well-being, and, increasingly, the very face of the land they have been an integral part of for generations.

But their poverty in material resources is not matched by a paucity in political will. Citizens are fighting back, buoyed by a growing national awareness of this most destructive of strip-mining methods.  And the rest of us can help.

Just a few years ago, efforts to stop MTR mining were represented by a fragmented collection of a few grassroots organizations. Today, seven of those groups from five states have joined forces in an effort called End Mountaintop Removal: Action and Resource Center.  Their clearinghouse website offers a host of ways to join the campaign to preserve what remains of America’s Appalachian heartland.

Here are seven simple steps to start with. Taking a few minutes to do even one or two of these things will help put an end to the most egregious environmental practice in the U.S. today:

1) Educate yourself.

You may have read the other pieces in this series, but there’s more to learn. Start with the National Memorial to the Mountains, an interactive site that uses Google Earth software to show the massive scale of destruction occurring in Appalachia. The memorial maps more than 470 mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal and connects visitors to stories, photos, videos and interviews of local residents to tell the stories of those mountains and nearby communities.

2) Track your own connection to MTR mining.

If you’re on the grid, chances are you are connected in some way to energy produced by MTR coal mining. By plugging in your zip code, you can find out exactly how. And then you can learn more about what you can do in response.

3) Ask President-Elect Obama to end mountain removal mining in his first 100 days.

President Obama will have the power to stop most current MTR operations if he so chooses. Find out how, and ask him to make good on his Aug. 27, 2007 statement that “we have to find more environmentally sound ways to mine coal than simply blowing the tops off of mountains.” And then remind him that no matter how coal is burned or the CO2 sequestered, coal can never really be clean when the method of extracting it is brutal and the damage irreparable.

4) Write to Congress and ask them to support the Clean Water Protection Act, H.R. 2169

This bill seeks to protect the quality of life and health of the people most affected by MTR mining in Appalachia.  By protecting their water supply, limits will have to be put on MTR activity. See if your Representative has signed on in support of this bill, and if not, beseech them to do so.

5) E-mail West Virginia’s governor and ask him to support wind energy development for Coal River Mountain

Time is of the essence if Coal River Mountain is to be saved. Add your name to an e-mail petition, or make a phone call to Governor Joe Manchin’s office to express your opposition to MTR mining, and instead, ask him to support the environmental and economic benefits of wind energy potential on the highest ridges.  Share some figures from Coal River Wind’s report that show how the wind project will benefit people much more than another MTR operation.

6) Applaud Bank of America for its leadership role in ending funding for MTR operations.

And while you’re at it, encourage other large lenders (Citi, JP Morgan Chase) to do likewise.  Michael Brune reports at the Huffington Post that “Bank of America, a lead financier of coal, announced that they will be phasing out financing for companies that practice mountaintop removal coal mining…The decision is also a testament to the hard work of Appalachian communities and anti-coal activists across the country, whose collective pressure left Bank of America with little choice but to abandon its support for this barbaric form of resource extraction. There is a powerful movement for clean energy in this country and we are winning!”  Let Bank of America CEO and President Kenneth D. Lewis know that you appreciate his company’s courageous decision.

7) Get others involved by spreading the word.

Circulate this message (via the link above) to your e-mail contact list, post a widget on your Facebook page, find out how to share and track your influence through online methods of helping others become aware of the destruction of the natural and cultural heritage that belongs to us all.

Image Credits
All images courtesy of Coal River Wind

Other posts in this series:

2 replies »

  1. Wendy, this has been a fantastic series. Not that I have been raised to expect even the best citizen action to stand against the weight of the economic interests of rich people and the politicians who blow them under the table, but the steps you outline here sound like a pretty good plan of attack….

  2. Wendy, it has been a fantastic series and i really appreciate this piece. I feel a little bit better about my town tonight. It turns out that the local coal fired power plant (which is municipally owned) does not buy MTR coal. We do purchase coal from a company that practices MTR…but i wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it’s next to impossible to buy coal from a company that doesn’t practice MTR. I’ll be writing an appreciative letter to the Board of Light and Power with a query as to our ability to buy from a non MTR coal company. (I’ll save the “let’s build a giant hydrogen fuel cell stack for another letter.)