SOS: Day 12,065 of Mountaintop Removal Disaster: Appalachia Is Rising (Again)

Summer time, and the livin' is easy in the coalfields--except from
dust to dawn, when untold millions of pounds of explosives are detonated
across 24 states in the nation, raining down silica and coal dust,
contaminating wells and watersheds, sending boulders the size of bowling
balls into the homes of American citizens.

Dear Media: It's Day 12,065 of the mountaintop removal mining disaster.

Dear readers in the 48 states that burn stripmined coal: American
residents on the frontlines of the coal wars need your help and
financial support NOW.

August 3rd--it was on this day in 1977, a liberal Democrat President
who campaigned to end the strip-mining wars signed the admittedly
"watered down" Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act as an act of
political compromise.

We all love President Jimmy Carter and his diplomatic efforts now,
don't we? Back then, stunned coalfield residents who had waged a ten-year campaign
to abolish strip-mining, listened to a well-meaning President complain
that the SMCRA bill still "allows the mining companies to cut off the
tops of Appalachian mountains to reach entire seams of coal."

The crime of mountaintop removal--as Al Gore once said--was federally sanctioned.

Dear Jimmy Carter, they're still cutting off the tops of Appalachian
mountains to generate George Power Co. electricity for your farm in
Plains, Georgia.

As Rob Perks of NRDC asks:
"When, if ever, will the Obama administration realize that it's not
enough to regulate an atrocity -- mountaintop removal coal mining must
be abolished."

Says Teri Blanton, of the wonderful Kentuckians for the Commonwealth:

"In some ways we really need to consider SMCRA a failure.
The federal government, and the states that administer the program, seem
to lack the spine to regulate as well as they could. It's been more
than 30 years and we are losing our mountains faster and in bigger
chucks. That sure sounds like failure to me. The federal government
turned the program over to the states and walked away. The states have
never shown either the will or the competence to administer or enforce
the law. The message seems to be if you do your job too effectively you
will be fired. Kentucky proved that about a year ago."

Actually, it's more like Day 14,600 of the mountaintop removal crisis, if we count all the way back to the first mountaintop removal operation
in Cannelton Hollow in Raleigh County, West Virginia in 1970. Bullpush
Mountain was the first American mountain to die for our coal-fired
sins, America. Over 500 Appalachian mountains have joined the carnage.

But who's counting anymore? Big Coal has been strip-mining our hills
and farms and poisoning our watersheds in Illinois since the 1850s, when
the first commercial strip-mining operations got their groove in
Vermillion County. The war continues. Local farmers are now fighting
plans for a new mine in that same community.

If we can end the war in Iraq, why can't we end the 150-year strip-mining wars and transition to renewable energy sources for our electricity?

But then again, weren't we supposed to win the War on Poverty in Appalachia, too?

The levels of impoverishment and economic ruin
in stripmined coalfields areas rival those prior to the War on Poverty.
In a line: Mountaintop removal and strip-mining have stripped jobs,
stripped economies, and stripped the people.

In truth, the same bureaucratic regulatory policies behind the War on
Poverty belie the bureaucratic regulatory policies steering our
nation's reckless coal mining policies: Despite their well-meaning
rhetoric, the feds have institutionalized the crime of mountaintop
removal mining as a way of life.

Says Vietnam war veteran Bo Webb, who lives under a mountaintop removal site in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia:

"We've had 1 1/2 years of Obama and still no abolition of mountaintop
removal (MTR). We have met with CEQ, EPA, OSMRE, local, state, and
fed representatives, still no end to MTR. I believe that is a
reflection on our efforts as a movement. Not that our efforts have been
lacking, but obviously they have been somewhat ineffective. I think
that some people may now be comfortable with continuing a dialogue with
enforcement agencies and congressional members thinking that we're
getting somewhere, we're close, let's keep talking. But what I'm
observing is that we are reaching out to them, they are not reaching out
to us. If we shut up and go away, case closed, bomb Appalachia."

But here's the good news: Appalachians are rising (again).

Back in the 1960s, an old labor organizer and Appalachian writer
chastised the bureaucratic mindset that allowed the War on Poverty to
ignore the root causes of poverty--mainly, the grip of absentee Big
Coal. In his Tom Paine-inspired pamphlet, Poverty Pays If You Ain't Poor, Don West declared:

"If we native mountaineers can now determine to organize and save
ourselves, save our mountains from the spoilers who tear them down,
pollute our streams, and leave grotesque areas of ugliness, there is
hope...It is time to realize nobody from the outside is ever going to
save us from bad conditions unless we make our own stand."

There are a lot of unknown and fearless Appalachians making a stand--the Alliance for Appalachia is the coalition of the nonprofit groups. But a lot of amazing activists are working outside the mainstream organizations.

And for the readers in the 48 states that burn stripmined coal, you
need to pull out your wallets and support their efforts on the
frontlines of the coal wars:

Bo Webb and Appalachia Rising

Appalachia Rising is a planned march on Washington, DC, Sept. 25-27. Says Webb:

"Now is the most critical and urgent time we have faced as
organizations and individuals in this struggle. We have been united,
but scattered. We have been focused, but diluted. Appalachia Rising
provides a platform for grass roots organizations, individuals and big
greens to come together in solidarity to set in motion the challenge we
face as a united people to protect our God given right to demand clean
water for us and all future mankind. Appalachia Rising will demand
that we establish this much needed mandate by calling for the total
abolition of mountaintop removal."

Judy Bonds and the Coal River Mountain Watch

Judy Bonds
is the heroic godmother of the anti-strip-mining movement today, and an
inspiration to a generation of clean energy activists across the
country. And Coal River Mountain Watch
is not only on the frontlines of the mountaintop removal war, but a
leader in launching endeavors for sustainable and renewable energy.

Bob Kincaid and Head-On Radio

Broadcasting from West Virginia
to the world for more than seven years, Kincaid was among the first
radio commentators to begin drawing sustained, national attention to
mountaintop removal and what it does to communities. All told, Bob has
probably devoted more broadcast time to mountaintop removal than all
other broadcast outlets taken together. He does it not only because
West Virginia is his home, and has been home to his family for upward of
nine generations, but because the disaster of mountaintop removal has
effects far downstream and downwind of the Appalachian mountains. It
takes money to run a radio--Bob deserves as much support as possible.

Climate Ground Zero

The merry nonviolent tricksters in the trenches of the West Virginia coalfields, Climate Ground Zero
is the inspiring collective of direct action advocates, who have put
their bodies on the line to defy Big Coal, stop the daily machinations
of strip-mining, and go to jail.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth

More than half of the mountaintop removal destruction takes place in Eastern Kentucky, and KFTC
has been on the frontlines with their numerous campaigns. Carl Shoupe,
a retired coal miner in Harlan County, has been one of their great

Ken Hechler for US Senate

Ken Hechler,
the 95-year-old former US Congressman and the first legislator to
introduce a bill to end strip-mining in 1970, is running for US Sen.
Robert Byrd's empty seat. Ken Hechler deserves a Medal of Honor for his lifetime work on behalf of coal miners and coalfield communities.

Marie Gunnoe and the Twilight Campaign

Marie Gunnoe, the Goldman Award winner, is helping the campaign to save the community of Twilight, West Virginia from being disappeared by Big Coal.

And please support the incredible ranks of filmmakers chroncling mountaintop removal, including these most recent efforts:

Chad Stevens and The Coal War

On Coal River

Deep Down

Coal Country

Black Diamonds

Mountaintop Removal

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.