Last weekend I traveled to West Virginia to attend Turning Over a New Leaf: a Faith Community Green Event, which was hosted by the West Virginia Council of Churches and the West Virginia Presbytery. This event was an invigorating day of speakers on faith and environment issues, worship, and a panel with folks active in environmental issues that affect West Virginia. Dr. Nazeli Vardanyan, an International Peacemaker, also spoke about her involvement with reforestation efforts in Armenia. The event was an inspiring day, filled with community building, worship, and sharing on a wide range of environmental issues. Thanks to all those who organized the event!
The day before this event, I had the opportunity to travel with Robin Blakeman, one of West Virginia’s Stewardship of Creation Enablers, and Dr. Vardanyan to learn more about how mountaintop removal mining is affecting West Virginia. We first drove through Kanawha State Forest, a nice green space just outside of Charleston. As we exited the park, on our right was the first mountaintop mine of the day – it was surprising how close this was to the state forest. This mine would not be the last that we saw on the trip.
By far the most ominous mine we saw is pictured here – Hollow Mountain. Located near Ashford, WV, Hollow Mountain sits just across the river from a community that is rocked by its explosions throughout the day. One homeowner has had to replace all the plumbing underneath his house due to the blasting. This picture does not show the immensity of the area that has been destroyed, but it gives you an idea of how much height has been blasted from the mountain.
We also visited the community of Prenter, which was recently featured in a New York Times article. The well water in Prenter has been poisoned due to slurry injections. Slurry is the leftover water and heavy metals that remains after coal has been washed. Sometimes this waste is stored in giant ponds, and other times, like in Prenter’s instance, slurry is injected underground into vacant mines. This slurry is full of heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, chromium, beryllium and nickel in toxic amounts. As slurry flows underground it can leak into wells. This has happened in Prenter, yet the state Department of Environmental Protection has not taken action against the mining companies, and it denies that the issues come from the slurry injections. It is shocking to me that regulators can turn such a blind eye. I am thankful for all the strong community members who are working to put an end to practices by the coal companies that are damaging their community. The resilience and strength that I witness were so moving.
In 2006 the PC(USA) General Assembly approved a resolution on abandoning the practice of mountaintop removal. The resolution urges “state and federal agencies that regulate mining practices, as well as coal companies themselves, to abandon the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining and work to meet our nation’s energy needs in a manner that is just, sustainable, and consistent with Christian values.”