The Common Good

Mountaintop Removal Kills People

More than 2,000 activists gathered at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. on a drizzly Monday on September 27 to protest Mountaintop Removal (MTR). Fiery speakers railed against the leveling of mountains, burial of small streams, and expulsion of communities to fill corporate pockets and fuel America's energy addiction. Musician-prophets wailed their laments while street thespians paraded their parodies. Colorful signs were everywhere with slogans such as "Blowing Up Mountains For Coal Poisons People." Half the crowd appeared to be under thirty, many of whom were brought in vans from colleges. The folks became festive, giddy, hopeful, immersed as they are in this "Power of the People" moment. Even as the 6-month anniversary of the oil spill approaches us tomorrow, we are reminded of the devastating environmental repercussions of our addiction to oil and coal energy.

Bo Webb, one of the main organizers of Appalachia Rising, took the speaker's bullhorn on September 27 and spoke to the members of the rally saying, "We need to focus on the reality of mountaintop removal and why it must be stopped now. The reality is that it kills people!"

Webb lives under the shadow of a large mountaintop removal operation. Boulders have careened into his back yard from massive explosions above. "Five million pounds of ammonium nitrate/diesel fuel explosives are set off every day in Appalachia." Air pollution from the explosives and silica and other rock dust permeates the air over adjacent communities. Webb laments that many of his neighbors have cancer and other serious ailments.

Bo Webb words that day were laced with anger and sorrow. His co-worker with Coal River Mountain Watch and a heroine to all of us, Julia Bonds, is battling Stage 4 cancer. "How many peer reviewed scientific reports do we need, how many people must die before we call mountaintop removal the murder that it is? The government knows mountaintop removal kills, and is not stopping it!"

Indeed, studies such as by Professor Michael Hendryx and the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians For Social Responsibility confirm the high cost of coal on human health. A well-being study conducted in 2009 by Gallup and Healthways shows that the three congressional districts in the nation with the worst health are Hal Rogers' district KY-05, followed by Nick Rahall's WV-03, and third with Rick Boucher's VA-09. It so happens that these districts, in order, lead the nation in annual mountaintop removal coal extraction.

The crowd cheered as about 100 of us proceeded to the White House fence for a baptism by arrest. Appalachia is rising to serve notice that a nation is losing its soul that willingly and contemptuously sacrifices people's lives for its corporate profiteers and energy addicts. As Jesus teaches, "What good is it to gain the whole world and lose one's soul?" (Matthew 16:26).

I pray for more people to help Appalachia Rise Up into just, sustainable, healthy, vibrant communities.

Allen Johnson is co-founder of Christians for the Mountains.

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