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Mountaintop Removal: Burning the House to Keep Warm

By Billy | October 28, 2010

Chances are if you go to school at James Madison University, this is being illuminated in part by electricity from a power plant burning coal from Kayford Mountain in West Virginia. If you are a student, professor, or employee at JMU, this story is your story. Don’t tune out just yet; I’m not asking you to chain yourself to hundred million dollar mining equipment, throw your TV out the window, change your thermostat setting, or even ditch your old inefficient light bulbs. I’m asking you to read, and learn, and feel something (anything!) and act in whatever capacity you feel appropriate. I’m asking simply for your time.

Activists and media trespass on "reclaimed" mine site.

Activists and media trespass on "reclaimed" mine site.

Kayford Mountain is part of the oldest set of mountains on the planet and is part of the most biologically diverse

forest of its kind. In these mountains sit the roots of freedoms and possibilities we take for granted today. Think of your 40 hour work week, 8 hour shift, child labor laws, the civil rights movement, the 21st Amendment, and many drugs you buy at the pharmacy. These are things we should thank Appalachia for. The mountains from which these things came are under attack. Literally. Do an online image search for Kayford Mountain and contemplate that one atomic bomb worth of explosives is used each week in the mountain range just west of Harrisonburg. All those explosives are used so the mining companies can access the coal hundreds of feet below the mountaintop, so the powerplants can burn the coal, so the energy companies can provide electricity, so JMU can illuminate, heat, and cool its campus, so you and I can log on to Facebook.

Adella Barrett, who went on a trip to Kayford two years ago explains, “it’s called mountaintop removal. After they blow up the top of the mountain and push the rubble into the streams, they spray these seeds from Asia that will take root on anything – literally on the sides of moving trains. That’s called reclamation.” The EPA allows for strip mining provided that the mine site is returned to its “approximate original contour,” which students who saw such “reclamation” first hand agreed this weekend, “is pretty much impossible.”

Activists illegally planted Hemlock trees

Activists illegally planted trees

On October 24th, JMU students joined dozens of other students, activists, politicians, and numerous representatives from international media to make a statement regarding the mountain top removal mining and the supposed reclamation of the mountains. After a weekend of camping, trainings, lectures, prayer, and conversation, the weekend culminated in the illegal actions of 44 concerned individuals. These 44, supported by even more onlookers singing songs and playing instruments from a legal vantage point, trespassed onto the mine site, which supposedly resembled the mountain’s “approximate original contour,” but looks more like the surface of another planet, and planted trees.

The civil disobedients carried huge banners with messages saying, “Reclamation FAIL,” and “EPA We Are Doing Your Job,” in their peaceful but assertive effort to fight against the devastation. The tree planters did their work in front of CNN and FOX News cameras, as well as with an Italian photojournalist. Although there were no arrests during this action, many students think going to jail for illegally planting trees would be a worthwhile endeavor. “It’s a small price to pay,” Freshman Lyndsey Tickle says, “Society says you’re a criminal, but who is in the wrong? The people blowing up the mountain or the people planting trees?”

The weekend was organized by a loosely defined collection of activists called Mountain Justice. If you’re interested in making a visit to see Mountaintop Removal for yourself, visit

Topics: Nonfiction, This is my life | Comments Off on Mountaintop Removal: Burning the House to Keep Warm

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