Faith A Factor On Both Sides Of Appalachian Coal Debates

Way back in December, I was very intrigued by a Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal headline: "Religion shaping mountain-top removal debate in Appalachia coal country." The crux of the article was basically that there are faith activists on each side of Appalachia's coal debate. Fortunately, recent developments are more encouraging. From the article:

On a remote slope in Floyd County in November, about 50 people gathered for a late-afternoon worship service alongside a pond designed to catch sediment from a surface coal mine. As coal trucks rumbled over the ridge above them, the worshipers sang hymns customized for the occasion - extolling the beauty of nature and its vulnerability to "folks with wealth" who "slash and burn and clear the ground."

Participants poured out vessels of water and soil to bless "the soil that has been damaged by this activity," said Sister Robbie Pentecost, a Roman Catholic nun who has worked for years on poverty and the environment in Appalachia...

But mining advocates also are drawing outside religious help to advance their cause. Jeff Fugate, pastor of a large independent Baptist church in Lexington, has launched a high-profile campaign in favor of coal, linking it to his opposition to expanded gambling.

"We have environmentalists today that are shutting down the working of coal mining in the mountain region, deciding that we must save the streams and the animals there," he said in a November sermon at Clays Mill Road Baptist Church, which draws more than 1,600 a week. "... Then that same crowd wants to bring about predatory gambling to a state that is hurting financially and is struggling to provide jobs already."

Pastor Jeff's worries about unrelated gambling issues are completely beside the point. Not one of the pro-coal activists in the article talked about the 24,000 Americans killed each year by coal soot, the 25 pounds of mercury produced by 100mw coal plants, or the streams and drinking water destroyed by mountaintops pushed into valleys. Forget good stewardship of the land; this is a health issue we're talking about here.

Fortunately, the tide does seem to be turning towards justice. Restoring Eden, once of several major faith-based environmental groups, announced in their monthly newsletter today that their latest hire will focus almost exclusively on ending mountaintop removal mining.

Restoring Eden is excited to welcome Anna Jane Joyner to our team... Anna Jane is excited to lead Restoring Eden's efforts to end the tragedy of mountaintop removal in Appalachia. Hailing from the mountains of North Carolina, this issue is particularly near to her heart. To learn more about the destructive practice of mountaintop removal, visit our website.

As Christians we are called to be good stewards of God's creation and to protect our vulnerable neighbors. Mountaintop removal is destroying God's creation and hurting God's people. We are called to be the hands and feet of God - enactors of ways of living and being that reflect Christ's love; protectors of the poor and vulnerable; and stewards of God's creation.

The new position at Restoring Eden follows pushes for clean energy legislation from groups like Interfaith Power & Light and Earth Ministry.

The Sierra Club and other national non-profits have done great work fighting new and expanded coal plants over the past few years, but the fight against this deadly energy source won't be won in conservative, "traditional" places like Appalachia without the support of local faith communities. These are very encouraging developments.

Tags: Restoring Eden, faith and politics, coal, mountaintop removal mining, Climate change, Environment (all tags)




What about good-paying jobs?  If coal goes, they may have to resort to gambling casinos.  Is that so much better?

If coal is to be eliminated, there had better be a substitute.



by demjim 2010-03-03 10:49AM | 0 recs
RE: Coal

You write as if jobs are the most important underlying value possible, and I disagree with that premise.

The American Lung Association says coal power plants kill 24,000 Americans each year. That's just the soot, never mind the mercury, mountaintop water issues, or poor slurry storage. Coal kills, and I do not agree that it is acceptable to keep killing 24,000 Americans per year so that 15,000 West Virginians can keep their jobs in a dying industry. That's 48k in 2 years for 15k, or 96k in four years for 15k. That's unacceptable. A legal heroin trade would provide jobs, but it would also kill and destroy families so we don't permit it. Coal, despite its historical acceptance and innocent employees, is no different, and unless you are prepared to be or let your children be among those 24,000 lives, than surely you must admit that there is a higher value than those 15,000 jobs.

That said, I am not callous. While I do believe that there are higher values than jobs and while I do believe that pursuit of the first value can't wait for the third or fourth to cement itself, I do recognize that it's important not to leave those families behind, and fortunately, there is a substitute. WV coal has gone from 150,000 jobs to 15,000 in the last century already, and many of those who remain can help transition coal plants to natural gas plants, and more can move to the wind industry. We don't have to destroy ancient mountains for a single generation of jobs; we can put wind turbines on their ridgelines.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-03-03 11:43AM | 0 recs

Sorry but this still looks like a statement from someone who has a good-paying job already.  I have never said that jobs are the only value, simply that it should not be ignored.

by demjim 2010-03-03 05:12PM | 0 recs
RE: Coal

I make $500 a month with shared housing and lousy catastrophic health insurance. It works, but it's not what anyone would call "good-paying." Never assume.

I agree, it shouldn't be ignored, and that's why I talk about wind and the fact that coal is a dying job sector anyway. But while you're right that it shouldn't be ignored, it's still just secondary.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-03-03 05:25PM | 0 recs

I apologize for the assumption, it is just that many socially liberal, economically conservative, upper-middle class yuppie snobs think that way.

by demjim 2010-03-04 10:43AM | 1 recs
RE: Coal

23's a little young to be a yuppie. ;)

by Nathan Empsall 2010-03-04 12:16PM | 0 recs


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