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.

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