Author’s Note

Redemption Mountain

Mountaintop removal coal mining is an environmental, ecological, political, and social catastrophe that all of America should be ashamed of. We’ve allowed the coal industry to turn one of the most beautiful, bio-diverse and ecologically rich areas of our country – North America’s oldest mountain range – into a national energy sacrifice zone. MTR has destroyed over 500 mountains and more than 2,000 miles of streams. It poisons the land and it poisons communities and the people who live there.

Only in Appalachia, where the population is thin, powerless, and poor – where the coal industry has been systematically sucking out the wealth for the past hundred years while financing the careers of complicit state politicians and judges, and members of Congress – could such a cancerous fissure in the integrity of our environmental consciousness take place.

Over the past fifteen years that I have been aware of mountaintop removal, there have been many optimistic signs that the movement to eradicate MTR was assuredly underway. In 1999, a courageous federal judge, the late Charles H. Haden, II ruled against the mining industry in a MTR suit brought under the Federal Clean Water Act. Environmentalists cheered this monumental ruling. Numerous websites documenting the destruction and desecration of MTR grew into voices for advocacy and activism. Volunteers marched on Charleston, Washington, and Blair Mountain. Celebrities like Bobby Kennedy, Kathy Mattea, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Tim McGraw, Ashley Judd, and many others joined the movement. Great books were written, including Coal River by Michael Shnayerson, and the epic achievement,  Plundering Appalachia, edited by Tom Butler and George Woerthner. Heart wrenching documentaries like Burning The Future: Coal In America; Coal Country; and The Last Mountain delivered what had to be knockout blows. Prestigious environmental organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club, embraced MTR and brought their great organizational skills and marketing resources to the cause. And then the Obama administration, with a mandate for change, swept into power saying all the right things about MTR. Surely the end was near.

Yet, in spite of all this outcry, and in spite of the competition from shale natural gas, the coal industry continues to blast away the mountains, forests, and streams of West Virginia and Kentucky.  Dozens of new sites have been permitted with dozens of applications awaiting review or appeal. The EPA heroically suspended the permits for Mingo-Logan Coal Company’s Spruce #1 MTR site in Logan County, WV, and was hauled before a congressional committee to face the wrath of coal-friendly reps and their industry lobbyists. With the next Republican administration (as with the last one), the rate of mountaintop removal will again ratchet up to keep pace with our insatiable consumption of low-cost electricity, and destroying more Appalachian mountains will be a central component of our national energy policy.

To learn more about mountaintop removal coal mining, and to perhaps add your voice to the outcry, start with the books and the documentaries mentioned above, and the websites listed below.

iLove Mountains:    www. iLoveMountains.org

Appalachian Voices:   www.appvoices.org

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition:  www.ohvec.org

West Virginia Highlands Conservancy:  www.wvhighlands.org

Coal River Mountain Watch:  www.crmw.net

Natural Resources Defense Council: www.nrdc.org

The Sierra Club:  www.sierraclub.org

Gerry FitzGerald

August, 2012