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

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

Joy To The Cosmos, The Lord Has Come…

Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).  The Greek word for “creation” is cosmos. The Gospel (good news) is for all creation.  Believers are called to be ambassadors, witnesses, first fruits of this good news.  Creation is to benefit.  Creation is to be blessed.

The extraordinary good news an angel announced to shepherds on Bethlehem hillsides 2000 years ago was, “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David the Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10,11).

Several centuries ago the renowned hymnist Isaac Watts penned one of the great Christmas songs of all time, “Joy to the World.”  The words resound with good news to all creation. Comments in italics…

Verse 1 (nature rejoices that Jesus the Lord is come to be its king)

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Verse 2 (when when we humans accept the reign of the Savior, the very land is able to be in the condition and purpose that God has created for them.  This is their joy, so to speak)

Joy to the Earth! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Verse 3 (this refers to the curse of rebellion against God, exemplified by Adam’s sin, which alters creation’s blessings)

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Verse 4 (Jesus is the measure and marker of how we humans and our nations are to rule. Alas! How far short humans fall.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Let us enter 2010 with renewed commitment that our deeds and lives will indeed be witnesses and advocates of Jesus’ Good News of Great Joy to our neighbors, to our communities, even to our enemies, and to all creation.

–Allen Johnson

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

The DEP has approved one of the permits for Coal River Mountain and blasting could begin at any time.  This would mean that Coal River Wind Project would be in jeopardy and we would lose a great opportunity to create sustainable jobs, clean energy, and a model for much needed sustainable economic development in the region.

Take action to protect Coal River Mountain and the Wind Project:

  • PRAY for Coal River Mountain, the Coal River Mountain Wind Project, and all the people that would be affected by this decision to begin blasting
  • CALL WV Governor Joe Manchin or send him an email and let him know that he has the power to do the right thing and halt the destruction of Coal River Mountain.  Tell him to act on his commitment to renewable energy and that by not taking action on this issue, permanent well-paying jobs, clean energy, and an excellent model for a sustainable future will also be destroyed with the mountain.
  • SHARE this information with your friends, family, and church.  Tell them to take action on this important issue and let them know that we can use God’s creation to benefit the region (through clean energy, permanent jobs, and a preserved heritage) in way that is not harmful and is respectful of what God has given us to care for and tend to.

CALL Gov. Manchin TODAY at: 1-888-438-2731 or send an email to Governor@WVGov.org

For more information please read the message below from the  Coal River Wind Team

Call Gov. Manchin: Stop Massey From Blasting Coal River Mountain

What a way to say Happy Thanksgiving West Virginia! The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has approved Massey Energy’s revision of one of the mountaintop removal coal mining permits for Coal River Mountain.

That means Massey Energy may begin blasting at any time – but only on a small potion of the mountain, so far. Governor Manchin can still stop Massey Energy from ruining Coal River Mountain’s wind energy potential.

In September, your calls and e-mails helped stall the blasting. The Governor has yet to heed the thousands of calls and e-mails he received calling for a “stay of execution” for Coal River Mountain. If he doesn’t act soon, then the clean wind and permanent, safe jobs potential of Coal River Mountain will be in jeopardy.

So we need your help once again to keep the pressure on the Governor.

Call Governor Manchin today at 1-888-438-2731.
Or, e-mail the governor at Governor@WVGov.org

and let him know that you are still paying attention.

For ideas of what message to leave, here area few talking points:

— Mountaintop Removal at Coal River Mountain would destroy all of the wonderful potential of the wind project.

— Wind is the better economic option for Coal River Mountain, but that depends on the mountain being left intact. Coal River Mountain has enough wind potential to provide electricity for between 100,000 and 150,000 homes, forever, while creating approximately 50 well-paying, permanent jobs in an area long dependent upon sparse, temporary coal mining jobs.

— The wind farm would also generate over ten times more county revenue than the mountaintop removal operation would, and this money could be used to stimulate further economic development and to create new, lasting jobs for county residents.

— The DEP has repeatedly denied citizens’ requests for public hearings related to the proposed mining.

— Community members are again asking Governor Joe Manchin to halt the operation and act on his commitment to renewable energy and to the citizens of West Virginia.

To learn more about Coal River Mountain Wind, go to: http://www.coalriverwind.org

Thanks for helping once again!!

— The Coal River Mountain Wind Team —