On a recent March morning, a group of community and business leaders from Ashtabula, Ohio sat riveted and astonished as they listened to the stories of three visitors from Appalachia. They learned about how the peaceful lives of the two elderly women, members of coal mining families and life-long residents of the mountains of southern West Virginia, were shattered by the arrival of mountaintop removal coal mining. They listened as one of the women described how her home, once appraised at $140,000, had plummeted in value to $12,000 after the blasting, coal dust, and flooding began. They heard about friends and family members who had lost their homes, their wells, their jobs, and even their lives as a result of mountaintop removal. They were told that stories like these are becoming increasingly common as mountaintop removal spreads across West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.
After hearing their story, there were questions. How is it possible that hundreds of thousands of acres of mountains are being blown up and flattened, and hundreds of miles of streams are being buried, forever? How can our government let this happen? How widespread is mountaintop removal? Why doesn’t anyone know this is going on? What can we do to help?
After the presentation, the Ashtabula Rotary Club established a committee to meet personally with U.S. Representative Steven LaTourette of Ohio’s 14th district. They will ask him to help protect coalfield communities by becoming a co-sponsor of the Clean Water Protection Act. The legislation, which will make it illegal to dump mining waste into streams and will end the practice of filling valleys with rubble, is currently awaiting a vote in the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. As a member of that subcommittee, Representative LaTourette will cast a deciding vote on the bill.
This group of concerned citizens from Ashtabula is just one example of the thousands of people that the Appalachian Treasures project will reach this year. Launched in March, the Appalachian Treasures project is a campaign by Appalachian Voices and partners in the coalfields to build a national network of people who will work together to end the suffering and devastation that mountaintop removal coal mining has brought to the land and communities of Appalachia.
At the heart of this effort are three incredibly talented and dedicated members of the Appalachian Voices staff. As the field organizer for the Appalachian Treasures project, Danny Dolinger will spend 20 grueling and rewarding weeks on the road this year, building up the national network along with volunteers from the coalfields. At home in the Boone office, outreach coordinator Christina Wulf schedules the tours and provides everything that a group hosting a presentation could possibly need, from materials to moral support. Appalachian Voices’ campaign director Lenny Kohm oversees the project, identifying target districts and traveling to Washington, DC, to meet with decision makers.
By the end of June, the Appalachian Treasures project will have visited 25 of our 70 target areas. The tours will resume in September and continue thorough the fall, generating thousands of letters in support of coalfield communities and the Clean Water Protection Act. Every person who has seen an Appalachian Treasures presentation receives regular updates as part of a massive network that also includes all those who have seen Dave Cooper’s mountaintop removal roadshow. An interactive website for the project is currently under construction, providing yet another tool for mobilizing this network.
At the heart of this effort lies the simple and time-tested fact that, when it comes to tackling any threat to our environment and communities, there is no substitute for simply talking to people and bringing them together as a force for change. In this case, the future of the Appalachian Mountains, and indeed Appalachian culture itself, depends on it. Because mountaintop removal is ultimately a national problem driven by our insatiable demand for cheap energy, it will ultimately require a national solution. We invite you to be part of that solution by joining the national campaign to end mountaintop removal.
Whether or not the Appalachian Treasures project has visited your town, there are four ways you can help:
1. Write a letter to your US Representative asking them to co-sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act, and bill that would protect coalfield communities. For more information and help writing your letter, go to www.appalachianvoices.org or call us toll free, 877-APP-VOICE.
2. Join the Appalachian Treasures network by signing up for the email list on our website.
3. Host a viewing of Appalachian Treasures. We would love to send you a free action kit that includes everything you need to host a viewing of “Appalachian Treasures” for your family and friends, church group, or civic organization. To request a kit, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call.
4. Make a donation of time or money to help keep the Appalachian Treasures project on the road. You can make a secure online donation at our website or send a check to Appalachian Voices.