By Silas House
The Appalachian Mountains are disappearing. They're being obliterated by mountaintop removal, an extreme form of surface mining.
Citizens have been speaking out in opposition to MTR ever since it began about 30 years ago, yet the issue still isn't a part of our national consciousness. Appalachia Rising, a mass mobilization in Washington, D.C. Sept. 25-27, seeks to change that.
MTR has already destroyed more than 500 of the world's most ancient and ecologically diverse mountains. At the same time, more than 2,000 miles of streams have fallen victim to the practice.
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MTR has also chipped away at the great beating heart of Appalachia, where mining jobs are being lost to big machines and the morale of an entire people lies in the wake of draglines and dozers. The same counties that produce the most coal are also among the most poverty-stricken ones in the nation.
A blatant case of corporations having more rights — and none of the responsibilities — than individuals, MTR leads to air and water pollution, contributing to high rates of cancer, gallbladder disease and asthma. Blasting destroys the homes and wells of people who come home from a hard day at work and can't even enjoy the peace of their own front porches.
Trees are almost never harvested so the coal can be taken out as quickly as possible. Huge slurry ponds lurk over entire communities and even schools, like Marsh Fork Elementary in West Virginia, which sits below an earthen dam holding back 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge. In some communities, the water is so bad it cannot even be used for bathing,
Over the years, citizens have marched on their state capitals, lobbied their legislators, gathered at hearings and country churches, lain down before bulldozers and devoted years of their lives to the cause of stopping this practice.
But MTR cannot be easily boiled down to a sound bite. Add to this that the grassroots movement against it is being fought with little more than words and music against an industry with bottomless pockets for campaigns that plaster the region with billboards, free T-shirts and even coloring books to help teach schoolchildren about the "benefits" of the practice.
Although MTR is happening in Central Appalachia, it is not simply a regional issue. It is an American tragedy. We all live downstream.
Those gathering at Appalachia Rising are not only coming to make their voices heard but also to find solutions. They will be there to learn from one another, to march on the U.S. Capitol and to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience to prove just how serious they are about ending the devastating practice. Most of all, they are coming so that as many good Americans as possible can hear their cries — Americans who may not be aware of the problem yet.
The rate at which mountains are being turned to plateaus increases steadily. Dissenters are asking for mining to be done with respect and responsibility, treating the place and its people with dignity. Coal companies and legislators have refused to listen. As so many times in our history, then, the responsibility to make a change lies within the hands of the people.
In September, the people will stand together to fight back.
Silas House, of Lily, is an author and playwright.