January 2010


Lovers and advocates of God’s creation,

Please take a brief moment to contact the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), the entity that is responsible for enforcing the law on mountaintop removal. They are asking for advice on how to enforce the law – and we need you to offer it!

Coalfield communities are suffering as a result from the lack of enforcement of these laws and because of coal industry greed and corruption that permeates the system. As God’s children, Appalachian citizens deserve to live in healthy communities free of toxic water, harmful dust, blasting, and the tyranny of industry.

Please send your comments right now! The deadline is Wednesday Jan. 19th. We encourage you to write your own message (write about your experiences with OSM if you have any), or  click on this link for more information and to send an email.

Don’t forget to pass this information on to your friends and faith communities!

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The Mountain Tops are Crying: West Virginia Coal

Gene Stoltzfus peaceprobe blog:  http://peaceprobe.wordpress.com

My Lord, what a mourning,
My Lord, what a mourning,
My Lord, what a mourning,
When the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the trumpet sound
To wake the nations underground,
Looking to my God’s right hand,
When the stars begin to fall.

– The Books of American Negro Spirituals,1925-26 by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson

I slowed down for the curves and watched for signs to Hawk’s Nest Park as I approached Ansted. The State Park was established near Gauley Mountain on the New River where local people told me between 470 and 700 mostly African American miners died while working for Union Carbide from 1927 to 1933. The workers contracted silicosis in the mines while tunnelling through a mountain to build a hydro electric plant, one of the worst industrial disasters in the history of the Americas.

As I approached the mountain top on Highway 60 in my Ford Ranger I found myself humming the old Negro spiritual that I sang as a child, “My Lord, What a Mourning when the stars begin to fall” except in my version mourning had become morning. It was dark as I approached Ansted. The mountains were only remote shadows as snow began to fall. In the version of the song of long forgotten slaves I hum the lines that had been morphed as they travelled voice to ear over the decades..

“We’ll cry for rocks and rocks and mountains when the stars begin to fall,
Rocks and mountains they’ll not save you when the stars begin to fall.”

I searched for an hour along unlit one lane roads for Allen Johnson who would host me at a Christians for the Mountains facility. Modest homes that once housed mine workers were plentiful. As I searched for the guest house I listened to public radio for reports on the Copenhagen meeting. Finally, I gave up searching turned off the radio and called Allen. He met me at the Ansted Pharmacy and led me to the rented guest house beside a century old Baptist church. The old spiritual was still echoing from my unconscious.

As I approached my lodging I could see the outline of Gauley Mountain in the distance and Allen told me that just over the edge I would see mountain top coal removal but that would have to await the daylight. Allen had warned me that 500 mountain tops have been dynamited layer by layer in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee – Appalachia – to reach the seams of coal. The coal is carried by train, barge and truck to power plants to generate electricity and to factories where steel is fashioned.

Rocks from the blasting have buried a thousand miles of streams and destroyed 12 percent of West Virginia forests forever. The Appalachian mountains that once reached heights equalling the great Himalayas of South Asia rose 300 million years ago when coal was formed from trees, swamps and other vegetation. Part of the energy for the light that illuminates my screen as I write may come from this coal.

The price for coal is rising. Surface mining permits the only efficient access to thin seams of coal formed 50 million years before dinosaurs, that traditional underground mining can not reach. With the use of large machinery and explosives two and a half times as much coal per worker can be extracted as in underground mines.

My own life has a connection to Appalachia coal. Sixty years ago when my Northeast Ohio family used coal for heating, 125,000 people worked in the mines. Today that number has fallen to 15,000 because of mechanization. Already then, Appalachian miners with their children fled homes due to joblessness, health problems and poverty. Their special accent was a matter of curiosity in my second and third grade class. Later when I lived in Chicago the north side Uptown neighbourhood was populated by people seeking refuge from the coal fields, many suffering from black lung disease. Today Ansted is more than 60% retired people. Few residents now work in the coal mines. However, coal dust, sounds of dynamite, coal trucks, and plans for more mountain levelling threaten the town’s new vision, to transform itself into a tourist center.

On the day after I arrived people were loath to travel the mountain roads due to snow so I stopped by the Redeemer Episcopal Church. I cautiously entered the annex of the 120 year old church where ladies were holding a fund raiser. My caution was formed by a belief that an Episcopal Church like this one would have been founded to serve the owners of the mines. No sooner did I park myself in front of one of the lady’s cookie tables than I was asked, “Are you here to work to stop Mountain Top Removal?” in a tone that definitely suggested that I would be much more welcome if I would answer, “Yes”.

I asked the ladies selling cookies for more information about the mountains. Over hot cider and cookies a woman from the kitchen informed me that their church goes out to the mountains regularly where their priest leads participants from surrounding churches in BLESSINGS for the mountains. She inferred that these events were not popular with the coal companies. “I hope you are here the next time we do a Blessing.” said another woman.

Allen took me to visit his friend Larry Gibson at Keyford mountain twenty miles west of Ansted as the crow flies. “Thanks for finally coming to see me” said Larry who met Allen and me with a big hug and a hot cup of coffee. The use of the word “finally” in his jovial greeting was unmistakably firm. I knew it was meant for me. “We need your support.”

Larry’s family line traces its roots in Keyford mountain back 200 years and the evidence lies silently in the nearby cemeteries at least the graves that have not yet been dynamited away. Along the winding road to his mountain top memorial hide way I see the remains of another mountain that has been blasted away, a valley blocked with land fill, huge coal trucks and shards of chimneys from long burned out homes that once housed 10,000 people who lived off mining. Larry cares for the pristine property of his ancestors as a sign of resistance to dynamite, and power shovels. Five times a year on key holidays he invites hundreds of people to festivals like of celebration and remembrance of Keyford mountain.

But not all of Larry’s guests are friendly. Drunken thugs show up to frighten visitors away much like company hired goons once tried to break union organizing in the coal fields. He describes 15 years of struggle, the offers of millions to buy him out, intimidation, arrests and speaking tours before leading us out over his 59 acre mountain top spread, a living trophy to persistence and survival. We pass several cabins where distant relatives come for retreat. He points to bullet holes, a long closed store and finally we pass Hell’s Gate, the property boundary beyond which we begin to view the empty disappeared mountain top beyond.

Below I can see layers of coal and massive power shovels loading coal trucks for delivery to a processing site and later shipment for power generation. In another direction bulldozers slice off rock that has been loosened with blasts of dynamite for disposal in the valley below. A hardy but bland grass has been planted on the mountainside next to his property where mining was terminated. There are no trees, shrubs, mice or deer, just grass. I see the town of Dorothy in a hazy valley beyond, named a century ago in honour of the wife of a mining company owner.

Visiting with Larry Gibson was good preparation for the rally at West Virginia’s state capital, Charleston, called to stop mountain top removal at still another site, Coal River Mountain. The Monday, December 7 protest brought together hundreds from West Virginia and neighbouring states. Everyone gathered in front of the West Virginia state Environmental Protection Agency which has rubber stamped so many company mining initiatives. Cordoned off about 100 feet behind the rally and adjacent to the agency building were 150 counter protesters, some hired by mining companies from the village of Dorothy. Greeting many of the speakers as they rose to challenge the crowd were blood curdling blasts from the horns of coal trucks programmed by the coal industry to cruise just a block away but loud enough to be heard maybe as far away as Copenhagen,. Rally speakers creatively co-opted the horns with long chants that transformed their irritating noise barrage into future friends, “Hoooooonk if you love the mountains.”

As I departed a voice inside told me to go to wake the nations. The descendants of coal miners who live in the hollows and valleys believe that Appalachia can be saved. The industry claims that rallies like the one in Charleston are the result of outsider manipulation by tree huggers. In spite of the charges I found an expanding conviction in West Virginia that the dust of coal pollution and lakes of slime, artificial polluted reservoirs created from crushing and cleaning coal, will be stopped. When people work together to change things they create a culture for transformation.

Several days later as I pulled out of Ansted I flipped on the radio to check developments in Copenhagen. The sombre reports of disunity among the nations reminded me to be realistic but thankful for the people, some diplomats, demonstrators and lobbyists who by their actions remembered the coal fields and disappearing mountain tops. The snow had ended and the fog had lifted. I could see the mountains and knew there was hard work ahead beyond the mourning or was it morning. It’s a new year. It’s a new decade.

Gene Stoltzfus with the Dustbusters

Note: Gene Stotzfus has 45 years experience as an activist and advocate for peace, justice, and joy.  He is the founder and director (retired) of Christian Peacemaker Teams.  His visit to West Virginia inspired us.      —Allen Johnson

Paper Mill

Print media relies upon the paper industry and ink industry to package its product.  Historically these have been (and are) some of the more polluting industries in the country.  Yet some companies are producing much more benign products.  All of us as consumers should make every effort to use “green” eco-friendly paper products.

The following article written by Willow  Cook is several years old.  More recent technologies and companies are springing up.  This article is published by Tech Soup (www.techsoup.org) which is a bonanza of services and products for nonprofits.  The following is some excerpts from her article.  Follow the link for the full version.

–Allen Johnson

A Nonprofit’s Guide to Green Printing

Do more to reach out to constituents and less to damage the earth

–by Willow Cook (Tech Soup, 2006)   For entire article, use the following link:

http://www.techsoup.org/learningcenter/techplan/page5675.cfm?cg=nyr_1#rate

It’s no secret that paper production taxes forests, water, and energy supplies. In fact, eco-advocacy group Environmental Defense estimates that producing one ton of virgin uncoated paper — which accounts for 90 percent of the United States’ printing and writing paper — requires three tons of wood, 19,075 gallons of water, and generates 2,278 pounds of solid waste.

Moreover, many white papers are bleached via a chlorination process that releases dangerous chemicals and pollutants into the water, according to sustainable-design Web site Renourish.

“The printing industry is the single largest air polluter and the third-largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world after automobiles and steel manufacturing,” said Renourish Founder and University of Illinois Design Professor Eric Benson. “On a typical day, [printers] use trillions of gallons of water that must be treated for its toxic chemical content and released back into our waterways.”

Meanwhile, adhesives, bindings, and foils used in printing and packaging can render the final product unrecyclable, virtually guaranteeing that it will end up in a landfill. There, petroleum-based inks can cause lasting damage to the environment, leaching volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — which can cause cancer and birth defects — into the ground, contaminating soil, groundwater, and, upon evaporation, the air.

The printing process itself is equally hazardous: Many of the solvents, shellacs, driers, and other solutions employed in producing film, printing plates, and cleaning the presses are toxic pollutants that can cause chronic health problems — including kidney and liver damage, and even death — among press operators, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

It’s Easy Printing Green

Among Dynamic Graphics and Renourish’s recommendations:

  • Choose paper that is 100 percent post-consumer waste (PCW), processed chlorine free (PCF), uncoated, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, made by renewable energy sources like wind or solar power (Mohawk Paper is a leader in this area), or even treeless (hemp and kenaf are two options).
  • Use vegetable-based inks or soy inks instead of petroleum-based inks. These alternatives are both low in VOCs and competitively priced. When using Pantone colors — an industry standard — avoid colors (mostly metallics and warm reds) that contain barium, copper, and zinc, which can cause health problems in humans. (Renourish offers free downloadable PDFs showing which Pantone colors are safe in its ink section.) Not all soy inks are created equal, however: Ecoprint’s Telschow advises using those with less than 2 percent VOCs.
  • Look for a printer that uses renewable energy sources. Telschow points out that Monroe Litho in New York operates solely by wind power; Ecoprint itself has gone 100 percent carbon neutral by buying renewable energy credits for the emissions they aren’t able to eliminate in the shop.
  • Try waterless printing, which eliminates the dampening systems used in conventional printing. Digital printing, which avoids the film and chemicals in traditional printing processes, is another good alternative.
  • Avoid using bindings, adhesives, or foil stamps in packaging.
  • Reduce the amount of inks you use by going with one- or two-color designs; you can also save paper by asking your designer to use standard press sheet sizes.
  • Familiarize yourself with industry standards. The Environmental Protection Agency mandates that federal agencies must use uncoated printing and writing papers containing at least 30 percent PCW content; coated papers must contain 10 percent, notes Dynamic Graphics.

Doing the Lord's Work, according to the Kentucky Coal Association (Isaiah 40:4)

A few years ago the Kentucky Coal Association got wind that “some religious leaders are railing against mountaintop mining and, as we hear it, invoking the Almighty to bring an end to the mining method.” We suspect the KCA would rather Christians stay inside their church buildings enjoying their stained-glass windows and contemplating the after-life, and leave the nitty-gritty business of running the world to the experts, namely those who know how to make money.

But not to be outdone, the KCA has come up with its own scriptural backing that proves mountaintop mining is biblically mandated.  Yes, blasting mountains down and filling valleys up is in the Bible. So as the tried and true saying goes, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”  KCA quotes Isaiah 40:4-5.  Although not stated by the KCA, this same scripture is also quoted by the fiery prophet John the Baptist (Luke 3:4-6).  Even Martin Luther King, jr. quoted the same scripture in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. KCA has a dream, too.

The KCA posts this following piece on religion and its profound biblical exegesis about half-way down its “Mountain Top Mining Issues & Responses” section of its website, http://www.kentuckycoal.org/index.cfm?pageToken=mtmIssues

Mixing Religion and Mining

Under most circumstances, we are of the opinion religion should not play a role in political debate.  Recently, however, we’ve learned some religious leaders are railing against mountaintop mining and, as we hear it, invoking the Almighty to bring an end to the mining method.

While these folks are certainly within their right to do so, it made us wonder, should we call for the same help to continue this mining practice, which is, after all, a temporary use of the land?  Mountaintop mining employs thousands of people and makes it possible for them to provide for their households, (see 1 Timothy 5:8, below).  It also can spur economic development, creating even more jobs in areas where people desperately need work.  The reclaimed flat land is and can be used for building factories, schools, recreational and tourist-based businesses, and housing in areas where flat land is a premium and land development costs very high.

We, therefore, even though reluctant to inject them into the debate, enter this scriptural citations for reflection:

“Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; The rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.  Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  Isaiah 40:4-5, (New American Bible)

–Allen Johnson

I am often asked by people how the struggle for “the mountains” is coming along. As we enter the New Year 2010, many of us might be pondering that question.

Ok? So how do we feel about the future, those of us who are activists struggling to save the mountains, the mountain culture, the mountain ecology, and integrity and civil society in the face of destructive coal extraction practices in West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and adjacent areas of Tennessee and Virginia?

This past year has had its ups and downs.  The EPA in Washington may be buckling down on mountaintop removal.  Maybe.  The coal industry is “pouring on the coal” (so to speak) in high-priced propaganda to resurrect lagging investment in coal-fired power plants, all the while scapegoating environmentalists.  High tension exists between coal supporters and those fighting abusive coal  practices.  The Copenhagen talks illustrate the difficulty in getting meaningful change.  So what gives us hope for 2010 and beyond?

In the Christian Bible, Hebrews 11 speaks to the nexus of hope and faith.  The first verse reads, Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” This is followed by a listing of numerous named and unnamed biblical heroes who pressed on in faith against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  Some of them saw the fruits of their faith, others did not.  Some were victorious, others seemingly failed.  Yet God commends all of them for their faith, and what God commends will ultimately have its triumph.

Hebrews chapter 12 begins, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Our hope ultimately cannot be in the government, although it is important to influence government to a better good. Our hope cannot be in popular sentiment, for we know popular sentiment can be whimsical and capricious.  Still we should seek to influence others to a better good. Our hope cannot even be in ourselves, for down deep we are weak and we falter. Even so each of us needs to work on developing and disciplining our own character.

We have a choice to make. Hope or despair.  And despair leads to inaction, cynicism, and paralysis.  Hope for a healed, restored, and harmonious creation, coupled with our conviction that God wills this to be, inspires us to faith in action.  God takes up and uses our faith-inspired action, often in a way we cannot fathom or see.  Thus our hope is in God.

We have much ahead of us for 2010.  Keeping hope alive and strong is essential.  Let’s all encourage one another to be strong in hope!

–Allen Johnson

The birth of Jesus according to the Gospel of St. Matthew is fraught with peril, flight, exile, and murder.  The innumerable Christmas pageants tend to omit most of this drama, perhaps because pageants often are for children. “The Wise Men” are coupled with Luke’s “shepherds” at the manger scene.

Herod is the villain in the story.  Wily and jealous of any usurper to his throne, Herod pleads the Wise Men to lead him to the new born King of the Jews so that he, too, might worship him.  The Wise Men find Jesus and pay him homage with precious gifts. Warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they leave for their home country by another road.  Upon discovering that the Wise Men had tricked him, an infuriated Herod orders all male children in the Bethlehem area up to two years old slain.  Joseph, warned in a dream, escapes to Egypt with Mary and the infant Jesus.

History notes Herod the Great, as differentiated from sons, as a master politician, exceptional architect, and supremely cruel and paranoiac ruler over Palestine.    As a regional vassal king of the Roman Empire, he had immense opportunities for self-aggrandizement as long as he continued to fill the coffers of Rome and maintained political stability. Ever guarded that he might be overthrown, Herod executed numerous members of his own household, including two wives and several sons.

In 20 BC Herod built the expanded second Temple in Jerusalem.  An extraordinary achievement, the Temple was built in less than two years with thousands of slaves and the employment of at least 1000 priests to comply with religious code.  This Temple is the scene of some of Jesus’ dramatic healing, teaching, and confrontations with religious authorities. Jesus was arrested, tried, executed, and buried all within a few hundred yards of the Temple.

Herod was a murderous despot. A modern equivalent might be Saddam Hussein.  It would be slanderous to compare Herod with anyone in American politics or corporate power.  However, it is instructive to delve into some of Herod’s inclinations as applicable to power-mongering in today’s American society.  Let me explain:

First, Herod pulled out all stops to aggrandize and protect his own power base.  One notes this trend, even though much softer, in today’s political and economic battles.  The public loses.

Second, life for Herod was expendable in deference to his own selfish ambitions.  The history of Appalachia bears witness to this grim truth of the Herod spirit arising in the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster to Blair Mountain to Black Lung to Prenter’s contaminated well water.

Third, Herod co-opted religion to consolidate his power by building a magnificent Temple and through enabling an elite religious priesthood to benefit economically while hoodwinking and burdening the common people.  Too few churches in America today are willing to challenge corruption due to compromised alliances.

Fourth, Herod built monuments of pleasure and ego for himself and for his legacy.  Herod’s plush vacation palaces and vast tomb display his vanity.  There are those today who plunder God’s creation and exploit God’s creation for wealth and pride. Appalachia continues to suffer under their selfish greed.

Fifth, Herod opposed Jesus all the while masquerading his feelings by pretense. I personally believe an imposter will reveal his or her true hand when confronted by a choice between their god and the true God.  Their love of money (mammon) often smokes this out.

Sixth, Herod was an unhappy man who died in torment.  Jesus taught, “What profits a person to gain the whole world yet lose his (her) soul?” (Matthew 16:26).  As anti-mountaintop removal activist Larry Gibson often asks, “What in your life is not for sale?”  Let’s hope it isn’t our soul.

—Allen Johnson