Sam Evans wants the voices of Appalachian families near coal mining sites to be heard, so he's cycling to Washington, D.C., to hand-deliver protest letters written by mining communities.
"The bike ride for me is just a way to take the voices of the people who aren't being heard right now and take them to Washington, D.C.," said Evans, a third-year law student at the University of Tennessee. He plans on leaving Tennessee Jan. 9 and arriving in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20.
Evans won't be alone for the 750-mile trip. Missy Petty of Conservation Fisheries Inc., a nonprofit organization that rescues endangered fish species, will join him for the first half of the trip.
Evans and Petty plan to stay in homes close to coal mining sites to see for themselves the impact mining has on nearby communities, then gather letters protesting mountaintop removal mining. Evans will hand-deliver the letters to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which will give the letters to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"We just want people to be aware of what's going on in their own backyards and want them to care," Petty said.
According to Evans, a sludge pond similar to the one that broke in Kingston on Dec. 22 rests above an elementary school in West Virginia.
"If it breaks it'll bury the school," Evans said. "It's just another sludge build waiting to happen, and the people have been trying to address that for years."
"There have been people killed in these communities, and they're drinking water that's polluted, and because they're poor, no one's hearing their voices," she said. "Because Sam and I are able to get out and ride our bikes we're going to reach out to, I hope, you know, the nation." Evans said he's flown over areas impacted by mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia.
"It's not just hundreds of mountains," he said. "It's reaching the point to where it's thousands."
Petty said they've "been getting the word out to a lot of mountaintop removal groups" about their trip. "We know there are ways to mine without destroying the tops of mountains," she said.