April 2010


Following is an Op-Ed written by acclaimed WV author Denise Giardina,  concerning the recent coal mine explosion tragedy.  Giardina is an ordained Episcopal deacon, and active in justice and environmental concerns.  (–Allen Johnson)


April 7, 2010

Op-Ed Contributor

Mourning in the Mountains

By DENISE GIARDINA

Charleston, W.Va.

PEOPLE in West Virginia had hoped that on Monday night we would gather around televisions with family and friends to watch our beloved Mountaineers face Butler in our first chance at the men’s N.C.A.A. basketball title since 1959. Men working evening shifts in the coal mines would get to listen thanks to radio coverage piped in from the surface. Expectations ran high; even President Obama, surveying the Final Four, predicted West Virginia would win.

Then, on Tuesday morning, we would wake to triumphant headlines in sports pages across the country. At last, we would say, something good has happened to West Virginia. The whole nation would see us in a new light. And we would cry.

Instead, halfway through Saturday night’s semifinal against Duke, our star forward, Da’Sean Butler, tore a ligament in his knee, and the Mountaineers crumbled. And on Monday evening, while Duke and Butler played in what for us was now merely a game, West Virginians gathered around televisions to watch news of a coal mine disaster.

On Tuesday, the headline in The Charleston Gazette read instead: Miners Dead, Missing in Raleigh Explosion. And we cried.

Despite the sunny skies and unseasonably warm weather, the mood here in southern West Virginia is subdued. As of Tuesday afternoon, 25 men have been confirmed dead, two are critically injured, and four are missing and presumed dead. Their fellow West Virginians work round the clock and risk their own lives to retrieve the bodies.

Already outrage is focused on Massey Energy, owner of the Upper Big Branch mine. Massey has a history of negligence, and Upper Big Branch has often been cited in recent years for problems, including failure to properly vent methane gas, which officials say might have been the cause of Monday’s explosion.

It seems we can’t escape our heritage. I grew up in a coal camp in the southern part of the state. Every day my school bus drove past a sign posted by the local coal company keeping tally, like a basketball scoreboard, of “man hours” lost to accidents. From time to time classmates whose fathers had been killed or maimed would disappear, their families gone elsewhere to seek work.

We knew then, and know now, that we are a national sacrifice area. We mine coal despite the danger to miners, the damage to the environment and the monomaniacal control of an industry that keeps economic diversity from flourishing here. We do it because America says it needs the coal we provide.

West Virginians get little thanks in return. Our miners have historically received little protection, and our politicians remain subservient to Big Coal. Meanwhile, West Virginia is either ignored by the rest of the nation or is the butt of jokes about ignorant hillbillies.

Here in West Virginia we will forget our fleeting dream of basketball glory and get about the business of mourning. It is, after all, something we do very well. In the area around the Upper Big Branch, families of the dead will gather in churches and their neighbors will come to pray with them. They will go home, and the same neighbors will show up bearing platters of fried chicken and potato salad and cakes. The funeral homes will be jammed, the mourners in their best suits and ties and Sunday dresses.

And perhaps this time President Obama and Americans will pay attention, and notice West Virginia at last.

Denise Giardina is the writer-in-residence at West Virginia State University.



Note: Richard Wills, a Bishop of the United Methodist Church  in the Nashville, Tennessee area, gives scriptural insight into the issue of Mountaintop Removal.  Wills essay is from Faith in Action: News and Views of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. (posted by Allen Johnson)

How to treat our earth

Scripture gives insight
By Bishop Richard Wills Jr.

The first mandate given to humanity in Genesis after God created and pronounced creation good was for humans to take dominion over it and rule over it wisely.

Bishop WillsBishop Wills

As stewards of God’s creation, we must care for all the earth and place the value of creation over the temptations of power and greed.

Today, our state legislators will decide whether private coal companies should be allowed to destroy Tennessee’s mountains using an unnecessary extraction method known as mountaintop removal mining. I would encourage all members of the legislature to seek guidance from the Scripture as they embark on this decision.

Our elected leaders are under a great deal of pressure to make the right decision.

At times when I find myself in difficult situations, I need to be reminded of where I can turn to find the truth. As we look at the issue of mountaintop removal, scripture gives us clear insight into how we are to care for creation. Jesus himself reminds us that the whole of the law can be summed up through loving God and loving one’s neighbor.

Scripture gives us clear insight into how we are to care for creation.

Dynamiting mountain peaks, filling valley floors with discarded earth and poisoning our air and drinking water are not acts of loving one’s neighbors.

When I see the eternal scars and listen to stories of families left in the wake of the destruction, I can’t help but turn to Psalms 24:1 which says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” Those words speak to the sanctity and sacredness of human life and the natural environment, and as servants we should not allow either to be destroyed in the name of corporate profit.

The United Methodist Church, along with every other major Christian denomination has taken a strong position against mountaintop removal mining.

In 2008, General Conference, [The United Methodist Church’s highest policy-making body,] issued a formal resolution calling for “the end of this economically, environmentally and socially destructive practice” urging all United Methodists to stand with residents of the communities hit hardest by this practice and to advocate on their behalf to their elected representatives.

Over 500 mountains and 2,000 miles of rivers and streams have been destroyed across southern Appalachia.

I would encourage all lawmakers to seek solace in prayer. This issue is much bigger than re-election or the desire to seek higher office. This issue is about serving as stewards of God’s creation and loving thy neighbor as thyself.

Over 500 mountains and 2,000 miles of rivers and streams have been destroyed across southern Appalachia as a result of mountaintop removal mining operations. The detrimental health and environmental effects of this mining practice have been unequivocally proven by the science community. All worldly evidence shows that this practice is unhealthy, unsustainable and its impacts are catastrophic to all living creatures.

I pray for our elected officials and hope that all citizens will join in the effort to ban this unnecessary form of coal mining.


Editor’s note: Richard Wills is Resident Bishop of The United Methodist Church’s Nashville Area. This article is based on a letter from Bishop Wills carried in the opinion section of The Tennessean newspaper, March 30.

The bill Wills encouraged legislators to support to ban mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee stalled for the fourth straight year in the legislature. The Tennessee House environment subcommittee decided not to address the issue although lawmakers said they will continue to study the issue, according to news reports. Dr. Dennis Lemly, a research biology professor at Wake Forest University, had presented water quality tests to the subcommittee that showed levels of selenium accumulated in runoff water from the Zeb Mountain coal mine had become “a substantial toxic threat” to humans.

On April 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued stricter guidance for enforcing the Clean Water Act when coal producers blow away mountaintops into valleys below them. Dawn Coppock, legislative director of the Lindquist Environmental Appalachian Fellowship, said the EPA’s water-quality enforcement could accomplish 90% of what the proposed bill would do protecting ridgelines. She offered a wait-and-see word of caution on the issue, however.

Date: 4/7/2010
©2010

Mourning the Deaths
(…Allen Johnson)

Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalm 61:1, 2)

A powerful explosion at the Upper Big Branch underground mine at 3:00 PM Monday April 5 has claimed 25 lives with four more workers missing.  This is an unspeakable tragedy….

George Matheson was a promising young scholar who went blind at age 20. His fiancé broke off their engagement. Matheson later became a minister.  He penned a powerful hymn now beloved by many, “Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” Here are the words to the third stanza.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee,
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

The world has come crushing down on families and friends of the dead miners. All seems lost in their immense anguish, despair, and soul pain.  May the love of God, and the love of everyone in their communities and across the nation, surround those whose loss is so deep.  And that one day the dawn of hope arise in each pained heart, so that life can go on…

Thomas Dorsey wrote the memorable song and prayer “Precious Lord” in the depth of inconsolable bereavement at the death of his wife, Nettie Harper, in childbirth, and his infant son in August 1932.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When my way grows drear
Precious Lord linger near
When my life is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When the darkness appears
And the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home