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

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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

http://www.ilovemountains.org has a great round-up of recent news surrounding the TVA spills in Tennessee and Alabama including various news articles, releases from TVA and other agencies, fact sheets on fly ash, coal waste, ecological risk, etc, photographs, and videos. Thank you ilovemountains for putting together this wonderful resource page.  Please check it out here.

Congressman Nick Rahall from southern WV, who also serves as the House Chairman of Natural Resources, is calling for federal regulations concerning coal ash dams.  Check out the Charleston Gazette article here.  But what good will this do? It is already painfully obvious that countless rules and regulation that are supposed to govern coal extraction and plants are not followed.  Furthermore, what use is a regulation with no one to enforce it?  Doesn’t the “P” in EPA and DEP stand for protection? Better yet, outlaw this sort of containment all together.  By using the dry-press method, there is no need for ponds that may potentially bust and release toxins. The slightly higher processing fee is worth protecting health and safety. Hopefully the tragedies in Harriman, Tennessee and at the Widow’s Creek plant in Alabama will serve as a wakeup call for policy makers, the new Presidential administration, and the American people that something needs to be done. Just think about the children that attend  Marsh Fork Elementary in southern WV. The school sits just “225 feet from a coal loading silo that releases chemical-laden coal dust and 400 yards from a 385 foot tall leaking sludge dam with a nearly 3 billion gallon capacity.” (Pennies of Promise) This is not the same material released at the TVA site, but is still extremely toxic and poses a tremendous threat.  Many of the children already suffer from nosebleeds, asthma, headaches, and much more. Just think of the unimaginable tragedy that would occur if this containment pond were to break as well.

In some cases, certain types of regulations create negative impacts on other ecological and health issues.  For example, The second TVA disaster in AL last Friday concerned Gypsum which is used as a “scrubber”, chemicals that are used in coal burning power plants to pull sulfur dioxide from the emissions in order to meet clean air standards. While this is good for the air, it creates a by-product that must be disposed of somehow, and in this case the gypsum spilled into the Tennessee river and damaged the water.  Regulations need to be formulated in a holistic manner and be truly enforced with severe consequences if not followed.

Is this what God had in mind when he called us to tend to his garden?  We must use what God has given us in responsible ways, and it is a possibility.  What is also very disturbing about these recent disasters is that they could have been prevented. There are methods in place to limit risk, but of course sometimes added safety  may mean an added cost. We must ask ourselves, what is best for the future of God’s creation- the environment and his children? In the long run, what has a higher cost, a small amount of money added to each ton to ensure, in multiple facets, a more ethical practice, OR the cost of cleaning up a major environmental disaster, the impact on health, safety, and ecosystems, and the cost of defiling God’s gift to humanity?

We must take action in order to protect our families, environment, and future.

  • Share this news with your friends and family.  Educate them and yourself about the TVA disasters.  Let them know that there are many other sites in similar danger.
  • Write or call your congressmen as well as those in affected areas.
  • Advocate for clean energy and responsible mining, processing, and containment behaviors.  One way you can do this is by pledging to make a call to the White House on Jan 21. the national call-in day hosted by CLEAN.  See previous post for details or just go here to sign up.

Wild Wonderful WV

The above picture is how many people are greeted into WV for the first the first time.  Do you think that this is what they expect to see in a Wild and Wonderful land?

view from Kayford Mountain

view from Kayford Mountain

On November 6-9, Christians for the Mountains and Restoring Eden: Christians for Environmental Stewardship put on the event Shoutin’ For the Mountains, a Mountain Top Removal Coal Mining Witness tour.  We were very fortunate to have a wonderful group of around 30 students from Christian Colleges all over the country.  Calvin College, Cleveland State University, Eastern University, Grace College, Northern Illinois University, Spring Arbor University, Trinity College and Waynesburg College were  all represented by committed, passionate students that are now ready to be advocates for the Appalachian Mountains and share their experiences with the world.  A High School youth group from Morrow Memorial United Methodist Church in Maplewood, New Jersey also got the chance to join us for part of the road trip throughout the southern coalfields of West Virginia.

It was a very action packed and educational weekend. By meeting with a variety of community members and listening to their struggles, the students got to experience many of the devestating issues that that arise due to Mountain Top Removal such as  poor water quality,  health issues, and  negative impacts on communities. The students also came away with a knowledge of the history of coal mining and union struggles in West Virginia. Participants visited Kayford Mountain, Coal River Mountain, Prenter, Sylvester, Whitesville, Marsh Fork Elementary School, Blair Mountain, Rawl Church of God, Red Jacket, and Matewan.

The students now have a deeper understanding of how Appalachia is involved in America’s energy consumption and have made new connections as to how that pertains to their faith. Now every time they flick on a light  switch, they will remember those communities and individuals that pay the high cost for energy in America.

By the end of the trip, many of the students were already developing plans of action to take back to their colleges and  get more people involved in the struggle to stop Mountain Top Removal and protect coal field communities. It was wonderful to see a group of passionate and committed students that spent a weekend delving in to a rich cultural area that is often misunderstood and overlooked.  Especially in an important time in America’s history where the political landscape is changing and open for new directions, it is great to see that a new generation of advocates for the mountains is springing up and working on how to protect and preserve the Appalachian Mountains, people, and way of life.

Blair Mountain Kayford Mountain

Check your local bookstores or favorite online seller in October for The Green Bible which is being released by Harper One, a division of Harper Collins Publishing. This Bible is a New Revised Standard Version green letter edition with passages referring to the care of God’s creation highlighted in green.  This is a truly extraordinary version and features an introduction and essays from a wide array of respected religious leaders and thinkers such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Wendell Berry, Mathew Sleeth, Barbara Brown Taylor, N.T. Wright, and many others. Other features include a historical overview on Christian teachings of creation, a green subject index, study guides that reference scriptures dealing with environmental themes, and a resource guide that gives you ideas on how to be a better steward of God’s creation.  Another interesting aspect of this Bible is that it has a 100% cotton/linen cover, is printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink, and is produced in a green-friendly environment.

For more information visit The Green Bible’s website

Please check out the video below from the publishers that explains the Bible’s powerful message for the Earth and features interviews that highlight the general perception about what the Bible has to say about caring for the environment.

Below is a Call for Peace in the Coalfields issued by the West Virginia Council of Churches.

Council of Churches Call for Peace in the Coalfields:

The Government Concerns and Peace and Justice Programs of the West Virginia Council of Churches felt a need to respond to tensions around the upcoming ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court. The appeal involves Judge Robert Chambers’ decision to halt a valley fill at Jupiter Holdings Callisto Mine in Boone County. Arguments will be heard on September 23 and a ruling is expected this fall, which could broadly affect the coal industry’s capacity to engage in mountain top removal mining. It is clear that whichever way the Court decides, many West Virginia residents will consider themselves to be adversely affected. Many in the coalfield communities fear their homes and heritage will be lost, and their health threatened by valley fills. Miners are worried about losing surface mining jobs and their capacity to support their families.

As people of faith, the WVCC feels it is of great importance to support all our fellow citizens involved by calling for calm, non-violence, and reasoned dialogue surrounding this issue and the upcoming court decision. The Council invites people of conscience to a period of fasting and prayer for peace in our communities. They are designating the month of September as a “Fast for Peace in the Coalfields,” and invite all concerned persons to select one or more days to join in this effort.

Individuals or groups desiring to join the fast and prayer are asked to contact Carol Warren,  Chair of the Council of Churches’ Government Concerns Program Unit, at peacelovemom@gmail.com to sign on. People will be participating each day throughout  the month of September.

Check out this Associated Press article on seeking peace and prayer in the coalfields.

Bill Raney, head of the WV Coal Association feels that “mixing natural resource extraction and religion is inappropriate and only serves to expand what already is a divisive issue.” He also believes that they are practicing stewardship.

Does this resemble stewardship to you?  Do you feel that the destruction of God’s creation has nothing to do with your faith?

Stover Cemetary, Kayford Mtn. Photo courtesy Vivian Stockman OVEC

Stover Cemetary, Kayford Mtn. Photo courtesy Vivian Stockman OVEC

Please check out the wonderful YouTube video below produced by the Sierra Club. It illustrates how the destruction of mountains in Appalachia through the process of Mountain Top Removal is a spiritual and moral dilemma. This short video spotlights Christians that are motivated by their faith to take action against the anihillation of God’s mountains. Also featured in this clip is Christians for the Mountains Intern Sage Russo. The video lays out actions that persons of faith can take to show love for their Creator and become a better steward of God’s planet.  The Sierra Club has done some great work in partnering with faith communities. Please take a look at the work they are doing with church groups fighting against Mountain Top Removal and care of God’s creation as whole.

“I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.”   Jerimiah 2:7