Last Saturday, the Office of Justice & Peace of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond and Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., hosted an “Eco-Evening” to discuss how environmental issues in Virginia influence poverty and human health.
I was invited to relate the devastation caused by mountaintop removal coal mining. Many attendees were seeing photos of the desecrated mountains and sludge ponds in their state and other parts of Appalachia for the first time. Groans filled the room when I said that over 25 percent of Wise County, Va. has already been leveled.
Proponents of mountaintop removal have long promised that the practice would bring economic development to the region. Instead, we’ve been left with flattening mountains, polluted air and water. Fewer than 11 percent of abandoned mountaintop removal mines sites have been developed, and many that have been are publicly funded projects such as jails and community colleges. Occasionally a Wal-Mart or strip mall take root on the rocky soil.
It’s astonishing how quickly the destruction of mountains, forests and streams takes place. But in the communities below, the harm persists for decades. Foundations of homes are cracked, massive flooding from the barren slopes follows rainstorms, and jobs disappear as mountaintop removal requires hundreds less miners than underground mining. Worse, Appalachian residents succumb to lung disease, cancer and other health problems associated with mining pollution.
Not surprisingly, these are some of the unhealthiest and poorest counties in the United States. The people of faith attending the Hollins event were horrified at what is happening to the mountains of Appalachia.
Mountaintop removal extracts coal, but it also robs Appalachian communities of their connection to the natural creation that is the foundation of all life. Scientific studies have revealed that 1.2 million acres of stripmines, including 500 mountains which have been sacrificed by coal companies in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee. No matter what your beliefs are, that is a moral outrage.
Let’s show faith in the future of Appalachia by ending mountaintop removal.
For more maps and data, visit ilovemountains.org