Colin Flood, 22, Vermont:
In West Virginia an entire way of life is not only being destroyed but is becoming impossible to resume. The water is no longer fit to drink; it has to be store bought. Every mountain that is destroyed takes with it hunting grounds, fishing waters, and many species of edible mushrooms and plants, all of which once provided income and sustenance free for the using. When the timber is gone, when the topsoil is gone, when the air and water are destroyed, the less than 4% of our nation’s energy needs that mountaintop removal provides will be small consolation. Explosives equivalent to a Hiroshima bomb are detonated across Appalachia every week, destruction on the same scale as the oil spill in the Gulf and the result of the same criminal disregard for health, safety and the law that companies like Massey and BP display on a daily basis.
Katie Huszcza, 21, Colorado & Virginia:
These mountains are home to some of the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world. Many of the flora and fauna here are rare and unique to this region and cannot inhabit any other place on this planet. The forests of Appalachia are rich in non timber products that could sustain communities across Appalachia. Medicinal plants that have been used to save lives are abundant here as are many types of edible plants and mushrooms. These mountains are also home to a culture that is just as unique and beautiful as the forests themselves. The people here have lived off of these mountains for generations and not only live here, but are really a part of this place. The strip mining practices of companies like Massey are destroying everything that is wonderful about Appalachia. The forests are being demolished and the top soil ripped away, taking with them the wonderful plants and animals that once flourished here. The water is so contaminated that it is no longer safe to drink. People are becoming ill because the water is poisonous. Mountaintop removal is destroying both the environment and the wonderful communities of Appalachia. Massey and corporations like it are putting profit before people and the consequences are tragic.
Jimmy Tobias, 22, Michigan:
I moved down to West Virginia on May 26th, 2010, two weeks after I graduated from college. The learning curve is steep here. Of the many things this place has taught me, three lessons stand out.
Right here on American soil the most brutal forms of exploitation are taking place. In Appalachia, an alliance of land companies, coal companies, big banks and Wall Street investment firms are tearing this land to pieces. Every hour of every day they dump cocktails of toxic chemicals into its waters. They poison its people with coal dust and liquid waste. They set off explosions that blast away entire mountaintops. They subject the local communities to de facto servitude by locking out all alternative avenues of economic opportunity. All this for the sake of coal and the satisfaction of America’s relentless energy “needs”.
This economic order recognizes no neighbors, takes no responsibility for the land and prioritizes only one thing — the turning of a profit. It is an economic order of businesses too big to care. The people here have lost control of their lives — a story familiar to many Americans as more and more of this country’s political and economic resources are concentrated in the hands of a relatively small handful of individuals and institutions. The economic system — as anyone in Appalachia can tell you — is explicitly anti-democratic. Whether by bribing regulatory officials in backroom deals or bankrolling elections for the court system, the actions of the banks, land companies and the energy industry along with their friends in the local, state and federal governments are cynically calculated to gut the institutions of democracy in this region.
This is not a bad apple scenario. This is not a passing phase. The same forces that are destroying this place and its people are at work all across the planet. Whether in the gold mines of Guatemala, the coal pits of Colombia, the mineral fields of Afghanistan or on the Gulf Coast, the logic of extraction and endless economic growth is ruining lives and land.
Sophie Kern, 20, Illinois:
It is unforgivably irresponsible to ignore evidence of an impending catastrophe simply because it has not happened yet. If the BP oil spill and Katrina have taught us nothing, they should have taught us to take warnings seriously and to not cut corners when it comes to precautions. I understand that it is not usually in politician’s interests to enforce regulations that inconvenience industries and decrease profit margins, particularly in a state like West Virginia that is so utterly controlled by the coal industry. Don Blankenship himself has said that mountaintop removal is impossible to do without breaking environmental regulations. The fact that a company can get away with bald-facedly breaking the law thousands upon thousands of times clearly indicates that the enforcement agencies are not doing their jobs. It gets difficult to tell where Massey Energy ends and the West Virginia government begins when it is so laughably easy for Massey to get away with such egregious environmental and human rights violations, to poison the water and endanger their employees. Prevention is less dramatic and sexy than risking one’s life to rescue people from a disaster, but ultimately, prevention will save more people. And since there is no way to effectively regulate mountaintop removal, it must be abolished. I refuse to wait for the Brushy Fork Impoundment to break and send a 72 ft wall of sludge through the valley for the world to wake up and realize how the greed of the coal companies is destroying Appalachia. I am willing to break the law if that is the only way I can force the higher-ups to listen to me.
Read our page about nonviolent civil resistance.