Mountaintop Removal

And the Mountains Will Fall

SOON AFTER Dr. Michael Hendryx assumed a professorship of health policy management at West Virginia University, he started hearing stories of sick people in Appalachian communities near mountaintop removal coal mining operations. Finding no scientific research that examined the correlation between mountaintop removal and community health, Hendryx and his colleagues began overseeing family health surveys and compiling health data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since 2011, Peter Illyn of Restoring Eden (Christians for Environmental Stewardship) has recruited and led student volunteers from Catholic and evangelical Christian colleges in conducting door-to-door community health surveys for Hendryx’s research. Typical volunteer experiences, according to Illyn, include “aha” epiphanies and deepening conversions to God’s justice. Alex Gerrish, a recent Samford University (Birmingham, Ala.) graduate, recalls a searing experience. Her survey team visited a home located close by two mountaintop removal (MTR) operations, where a mother answered the door. She said, “I’m trying to get my son down for a nap,” explaining that her two-year-old had a heart defect. “Now’s not a good time to talk.” Two days later the team revisited the home to be met by an older, tear-stained woman. “I’m sorry,” she said. “My grandson passed away a couple days ago.” He never woke up from his nap. As Gerrish stood in shock, she recalled the statistics on high birth-defect rates in communities with mountaintop removal operations.

Now, more than two dozen published peer-reviewed studies show a high correlation between populations living amid MTR operations and very high rates of morbidity, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, cancer, and birth defects.

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From the Hollers to City Streets

THE VIDEO for the title track of 2/3 Goat’s EP Stream of Conscience features members of the New York City-based band standing knee-deep in a stream in the mountains of Central Appalachia. Lead singer and mandolin player Annalyse McCoy belts: “Stream of conscience hear my cry / I don’t want my hills to die.” The video intermixes a fictional family’s daily life in the coalfields with harrowing footage of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining, which has destroyed more than 300 mountains in the region. In later scenes, the band walks down a country road with coal-dust covered miners, young people, and families in a rambling, spontaneous protest march. It truly is a visual evocation of Appalachia Rising—a tagline of the region’s anti-MTR movement.

The other core members are guitarist, song writer, and vocalist Ryan Dunn and fiddler Ryan Guerra. 2/3 Goat is a self-proclaimed metrobilly band, a portmanteau referring to the music’s urban audience and its roots in country and mountain music. Its acoustic-driven, bluegrass- and old-time-music-inspired sound has engaging harmonies and a sweetness and honesty to it. The other tracks on this five-song release are strong, both in musical composition and storytelling. “Lay It on the Line” is a playful duet between McCoy and Dunn with upbeat fiddle, guitar, and mandolin accompaniment that will make you want to flat foot (if you have enough mountain swagger to pull it off) to this almost-love song. “Band of Gold” highlights McCoy’s textured alto voice and ability to wail when the lyrics call for it. The tone is emotionally heavy, but the fiddle accompaniment and the shift in tempo at the end of the song save it from needing a side of whiskey to wash it down.

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