Wendell Berry Won't Quit Trying to Save the Mountains

By Rose Marie Berger 02-14-2011

1100214-wendellberryFourteen mountain-top removal protesters -- including author Wendell Berry -- are in their third day of a sit-in/sleep-in at the Kentucky Governor's Office in Frankfort. The group, known as Kentucky Rising, is demanding that Gov. Steve Beshear (D), who is up for reelection in November, end his support of mountaintop removal, a destructive form of surface mining that has buried over 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams. They also insist that he withdraw from a lawsuit he filed, in an alliance with the Kentucky Coal Association, against the Environmental Protection Agency.

Wendell Berry, a native Kentuckian and author most recently of Bringing It To the Table: On Farming and Food, was interviewed by Jeff Biggers this week on mountain-top removal coal mining and why he is protesting at the Capitol.

"[Mountain-top removal] puts the mining of coal into conflict with the forest that is a perishable resource. For the sake of a perishable resource we are ruining a potentially permanent one. With good use the forest could last forever. And the coal is of value only by its burning. ... All of us who are interested in stopping this terrible damage and this terrible oppression of people and these terrible effects that will go on and one because water flows, all of us understand that we are not approaching a time to quit. I've been interested in this problem ever since 1965 and I'm still interested in it. I don't think I'll last another 45 years but I intend to stay interested in it and involved as long as the Lord spares me."

Wendell Berry, 76, was interviewed by Sojourners in 2004 ("Heaven in Henry County") and is probably the most well-known of the protesters. He has joined with Beverly May, 52, a nurse practitioner from Floyd County; Erik Reece, 43, author of Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness: Radical Strip Mining and the Devastation of Appalachia and An American Gospel: On Family, History, and The Kingdom of God; Patty Wallace, 80, a grandmother and long-time activist from Louisa; Mickey McCoy, 55, former educator and mayor of Inez; Teri Blanton, 54, a grassroots activist from Harlan County; Stanley Sturgill, 65, a former underground coal miner of Harlan County; Rick Handshoe, 50, a retired Kentucky State Police radio technician of Floyd County; John Hennen, 59, a history professor at Morehead State University; and Martin Mudd, 28, an environmental activist.

Pastor Jordan Thrasher, from Bold Springs UMC in Carnesville, Georgia, preached last Sunday in support of the sit-in. "Two of my favorite authors are camped out in the governor's office in Kentucky right now with other protesters to get him to stop mountaintop removal mining in their state," he said. Mountaintop removal destroys nature, communities, and ecosystems, poisoning the land, but as long as the people get their power

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