Appalachian Spring

The end of a dark and difficult winter brings back moments of sorrow and horror like blasts of arctic wind. From the mines of West Virginia and Kentucky came news of tragedy that could have been averted. From federal appeals courts in Richmond and Knoxville came more grim news, as reckless procedures for permitting mountaintop removal coal mining were upheld.

Despite all this, we increasingly aware of a sharply changing moral climate.

Spring is coming to Appalachia. The fight against the destruction of the people and environment of our region is becoming increasingly visible in the national media: recent articles in the National Geographic, the New York Times, Orion and many others show the rising awareness.

The people of Appalachia have shown that they are not broken, nor will they be. Even as hope for new injunctions froze over, we awoke to new safety laws, long overdue in West Virginia, and a warm moment of moral certainty:

The enormous evil that is mountaintop removal coal mining will be stopped. Underground mining will become safer. We know this in the same way that Martin Luther King knew that the South would have to change. We know it like Winston Churchill knew that fighting fascism was the only option. We know it like we know the hollows of our hands and our hills. We know not just our rights but our very survival is at stake, and we simply will not go down.

As King said in his famous letter from a Birmingham jail: “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.”
King also knew, with certainty, which side of history he was on. “One day the South will recognize its real heroes,” he said, describing the struggles of people like Rosa Parks and James Meredith. “One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”

We are seeing the same spirit emerge, like spring, in Appalachia. We welcome it, and we know that fighting for our very right to exist is not a partisan issue.

We don’t speak from the left or the right, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican point of view.

We speak from the heart. We speak for the mountains.

We speak for the future.

We speak through demonstrations and non-violent protest, through happy bake sales, through tearful arrests. We speak by driving with lights on or holding up flashlights in broad daylight. We speak with neighbors, in churches, at community meetings, and through ballot boxes.

We know that voters are seeing the light, and we know the government and the coal companies will finally have to see it also.

Eventually they will see the light blazing across Appalachia, and they will join us. Like the old time segregationists who looked in the mirror one morning, they will wonder why it took so long to finally face the truth. Eventually they will see that it’s spring in Appalachia.

Blowing Smoke in Virginia

Appalachian Voice and other newspapers recently wrote about serious air pollution issues in the Appalachian region of Virginia. The quick response from the Virginia state Department of Environmental Quality would have been gratifying if it had been anything other than a public relations campaign.

It would have been nice, for example, to see tax money spent on air pollution monitors or more inspections. Instead, regulators held meetings designed to assure local governments that “air pollution trends are down.” Local officials said they felt better after the meetings.

Somehow, we felt even more uneasy. Asked to explain, state air quality officials said that extrapolations from toxic resource inventory (TRI) data and other information was not appropriate, but offered nothing in its place. They also confirmed that, with one small exception, Virginia’s DEQ has never set up monitors in the New River region. Nor are there any new emissions controls being installed in any of the factories and power plants there.

And so, without new pollution controls, and without any monitoring, Virginia officials who pretend to be optimistic about downward trends seem, at best, to be doing nothing more than blowing smoke.


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