Allen Johnson

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Frontline Dispatch from the War on Coal

by Allen Johnson 12-10-2014
Allen McDavid Stoddard /

Allen McDavid Stoddard /

Like sifted coal, the dust is settling after the recent election in the “War On Coal” zone in West Virginia and Kentucky. Ungloved fisted hands lifted high in victory, King Coal. Knocked out cold on the canvas, contenders misleadingly accused of having President Obama and his dreaded coal-killing EPA in their corner.

The campaign propaganda was drearily repetitive. The syllogistic script for Republicans, “My opponent is a Democrat. President Obama is a Democrat whose EPA is killing coal jobs. Therefore my opponent will kill your coal jobs.” Democrat candidates protested vigorously, “As top priority, we will fight to bring the EPA to its knees, and bring coal jobs back!”

It’s been decades since any semblance of a coal boom economy. Comparable coal tonnage is still coming out of Appalachian ground. Machines and explosives began replacing most of the miners in the 1950s. In recent years, Appalachian coal commerce has been facing competitive market realities of cheaper coal mined further west along with a natural gas surfeit. With thicker, accessible Appalachian coal veins long mined out, profitability can still be realized by shaving environmental and safety corners and restoring market demand. The Environmental Protection Agency stands in the way, or so mining communities are told.

I turn to the EPA website and read, “the mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.” The first listed EPA purpose is that “all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.”

And the Mountains Will Fall

by Allen Johnson 03-06-2014

New studies reveal the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the people nearby.

West Virginia: Where Energy Rules, Subjects Suffer

by Allen Johnson 01-17-2014
Ljupco Smokovski and Adam J/Shutterstock

West Virginia has a king — name’s Coal. Ljupco Smokovski and Adam J/Shutterstock

I’ll be upfront and admit it. When I heard about the chemical spill that shut down the water supply for 300,000 of my fellow West Virginians, I felt an odd tug of relief.  “Maybe now something will get straightened out,” I thought to myself.

Sure, what I felt might sound callously unfeeling. After all, the chemical spill closed down businesses and schools, shut down bathing, and reduced populations to scrapping for potable water. Happily, thousands of neighbors and outliers pitched in to deliver water from bottles to tankers to the beleaguered people.

Welcome, world, to West Virginia, your national energy sacrifice state. Our state has a king — name’s Coal. Just as in Nebuchadnezzar’s era (Daniel 3), on cue politicians, business people, and media outlets bow their knee to King Coal lest their fates be a metaphorical fiery furnace.

Before readers think I’m off-track, let me first back up.

Larry Gibson, Keeper of the Mountains

by Allen Johnson 10-12-2012
Photo by Paul Corbit Brown

Photo by Paul Corbit Brown

Larry Gibson, “Keeper of the Mountains,” died Sunday, Sept. 9 at his home on Kayford Mountain, W.V. He was 66. His wife and three adult children survive. Gibson had a fifth grade education, a career as a custodian at an Ohio automobile factory, and retired to the obscure and abandoned place of his birth. Gibson stood 5’2”. 

“God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27b). From the halls of the nation’s most prestigious universities, through innumerable rallies, protests, and arrests, to the many hundreds of tours he hosted on Kayford, Gibson spoke truth to power with uncompromising integrity, unflagging determination, and heroic courage. 

Larry Gibson returned to West Virginia in the 1990s, and to his shock, learned that a new method of coal extraction was literally blasting mountains apart to extract coal while shoving the vast remaining rubble into adjacent valleys burying small streams. Ecosystems were being severely, irrevocably degraded. Scarcely anyone knew about mountaintop removal back then, let alone cared. 

Political Winter Storms in the West Virginia Coalfields

by Allen Johnson 02-14-2011

In the old days, in the coal towns of West Virginia, winter was a time when folks hunkered around the pot-bellied stove and whiled away time spinning stories. At times, someone would fiddle with the draft, poke the coal embers, and release an extra dollop of acrid coal smell. Houses were drafty. Your front side facing the stove could be burning up, your backside shivering cold.

Remembering Judy Bonds, Mountain Defender

by Allen Johnson 01-05-2011

This past Monday, January 3, anti-mountaintop removal activist Judy Bonds exhaled her last breath from the homeland she loved.

Mountaintop Removal Kills People

by Allen Johnson 10-19-2010

More than 2,000 activists gathered at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C.

Is the Cordoba House "Insensitive"?

by Allen Johnson 09-07-2010

"Yes, Muslims have the constitutional right to build a mosque near Ground Zero.

King Coal: Ruling Principality and Power in West Virginia

by Allen Johnson 05-17-2010

In this month's Sojourners, Onleilove Alston takes a spiritually inflected look at coal country, where last month's EPA decision to ban much mountaintop removal min

Who's to Blame for the Continuing Tragedy in Coal Country?

by Allen Johnson 04-15-2010
The heart-chilling news flashed through West Virginia's Coal River valley, a darkening pall on the blue sky afternoon of April 5, 2010, one day after Easter's hope-filled celebration of resurrectio