05/04/09

Where Have All the Mountains Gone?

Share

Through many parts of Appalachia, the practice of coal mining by mountaintop removal has destroyed an estimated 470 mountains and buried or polluted 2,000 miles of rivers. Open pits gouge the landscape where once stood the summits of some of the oldest mountains on earth. Coal slurries pumped into aquifers have poisoned wells.  On April 20 of this year, one crusader against this destructive practice, Maria Gunnoe of West Virginia, received a Goldman Environmental Prize for her work.

Mountaintop removal is an especially devastating form of mining. Photo courtesy of Restoring Eden.

Mountaintop removal is an especially devastating form of mining. Photo courtesy of Restoring Eden.

Other citizens have helped in the cause. Using a 2008 grant from the Rex Foundation, Peter Illyn, director of Restoring Eden, recently took two van loads of students from local colleges to “bear witness” to the devastation from these practices and to visit Appalachian communities suffering from the consequences. Here is his report.

I am pleased to let you know that Restoring Eden was able to leverage the $2,500 grant from the Rex Foundation into a much larger impact than we expected. The results will pay dividends for years to come.

We first visited some open pit mines and met with landowners who are bullied and intimated by coal company thugs. (In fact, our vans were stopped by coal company security guards while on a public access road who asked “what was our business in their area?”)

At a community church, we were filmed as we met a pastor who has taken a stand against the pumping of coal slurry into the local aquifer. He said the coal companies use the films to try to identify who meets with them and to pressure their families to try to shut down their opposition. We also met with grandmothers and church deacons from communities where over 90% of the people have had to have their gall bladders removed because of their toxic well water. We met with parents who have to send their children to an elementary school at the base of a billion gallon sludge pond, similar to the dam that just failed in Tennessee and in Alabama.

Dust from a blast as another piece of mountain is destroyed. Photo courtesy of Restoring Eden.

Dust from a blast as another piece of mountain is destroyed. Photo courtesy of Restoring Eden.

We then went to the town of Matewan to see the bullet holes still in the brick walls of where mining thugs killed the mayor and many striking miners.  We also went to Blair Mountain and stood in the bunkers where the US government dropped bombs from planes and shot at striking coal miners.

It was a stunning trip and we owe the experience to Rex”s timely support. But the  impact of your grant continues:

1.) Backpacker magazine sent their senior editor and senior photographer and a feature story of our witness tour will be published sometime in early summer.

2.) The students went home to their respective schools with jugs of polluted water that they have used to engage other students.  Hundreds of dollars have been raised to purchase and deliver 50 gallon water storage units for impoverished families who now have to drive to water stations to get purified drinking water because their family wells have been permanently poisoned. Fifteen of these students went to Washington D.C. in mid-March to engage Congress to reinstate the Clean Water Act to prohibit the dumping of mining waste into streams and rivers. They have gathered over 500 petition signatures from classmates to deliver to Congress. They have had over 50 meetings with elected officials.

3.) We have raised an additional $25,000 to lease and refurbish two houses in the town of Anstead, West Virginia, that Restoring Eden will use as a base for visiting college professors and students who will partner with researchers from University of West Virginia on a multi-year study of water and air pollution and their health impacts upon the community.  The students will earn field-study credits in social work, public health, community assessment and environmental science while providing research data that will be correlated with mining activity in the region. In late March, some professors will present the program at a national networking conference of Christian social work programs. These houses will give us the opportunity to create a hands-on experience for many more students who will then head back to their home churches and colleges to actively campaign against this form of coal mining.


Students joined a protest in Washington, DC, to raise Congressional awareness of the issue. Photo courtesy of Restoring Eden.

Students joined a protest in Washington, DC, to raise Congressional awareness of the issue. Photo courtesy of Restoring Eden.