I have always considered myself environmentally conscious. I am an unabashed tree-hugging-dirt-worshipper. The focus of my consciousness was always my own home, my own community. Our household recycled. Our spiritual group annually picked up trash on Earth Day for our local park paths in Ohio. Mindfulness and making conscious decisions about not wasting resources was a way of life. I was proud of my efforts and my ethos. Moving to West Virginia has humbled me and shown me: I’ve been deliberately ignorant. Awareness is uncomfortable.
Not long after moving to West Virginia I was playing around on Google Earth, trying to find our house. What was that pale area southeast of our house? Zooming in, it looked like a moonscape. Zooming out, it is impossible not to notice that the West Virginia landscape is riddled with these pale moonscapes. It looks like someone took a grinder to all of the high spots. So I asked my neighbor, did she know what I was looking at? Until that moment, I was clueless that a mountaintop strip mine was so close by.
I needed to be educated.
The local library provided DVD’s, On Coal River, The Last Mountain, Rise Up West Virginia. These documentaries are difficult to watch. I cried. I got mad. I felt helpless. I still feel all of these emotions. Daily. I found organizations like OVEC (Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition), Keeper of the Mountain, iLoveMountains, and Appalachian Voices. Hours, days were spent researching, trying to catch up, so that I could talk about the subject intelligently. It wasn’t personal. It just seemed like something I should really know about, here in my new community, my new state.
And then we found out: Keystone Development #1 mine was expanding (marked in the graphic above). It was a done deal. Now it was personal. I knew it could be fought – these groups were fighting these mines all over Appalachia. I met with the Kanawha Forest Coalition. They gave me some starting points, gave me information packets. I was hopeful. After all, we live just across the river from the state capitol. Surely, Governor Tomblin wasn’t aware that this was happening this close to the state capitol, bordering a state forest! Making sure he was notified would produce some response! (I am so naive sometimes.) Calls to the governor’s offices revealed that he had people answering the calls and keeping a tally of “for” or “against” the mine expansion. And that’s all.
The Department of Environmental Protection has offices locally. Environmental Protection. They are the folk who issue the mining permits and monitor the mine sites to enforce compliance. Surely they would listen. Surely they would help. Right?