"Mountains of Injustice: Social and Environmental Justice in Appalachia" by Michele Morrone and Geoffrey L. Buckley, editors, Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2011, 216 pages. Hardcover, $49.95.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Companies often choose poor and minority neighborhoods, in both urban and rural areas, to locate factories that pollute the air and water, landfills for toxic materials and electric-power plants.
In exchange for desperately needed jobs, local residents may be willing to overlook long-term damage to their environments and their own health.
But today, citizen's groups are increasingly willing to challenge those long-term dangers. Sometimes they succeed, at least in part.
These are the themes in "Mountains of Injustice: Social and Environmental Justice in Appalachia," a book of eight essays recently published by Ohio University Press.
Edited by Michele Morrone and Geoffrey L. Buckley, "Mountains of Injustice" tells stories about coal towns, nuclear research and waste facilities, chemical plants and lumber companies that devastate forests by clear-cutting.
"Environmental problems and potential related health outcomes ... cannot be understood without also giving attention to the underlying system," writes Stephen J. Scanlan, a sociology professor at Ohio University, in his opening chapter about environmental justice in Appalachia.
"Environmental well-being, like any other societal reward, is stratified, thus creating winners and losers in its distribution."
Today's environmental social justice movement was sparked, Scanlan writes, by challenges made back in 1982 to a new hazardous waste landfill in Warren County, N.C., in an area home to many African-Americans.
Local citizens lost their battle against the landfill. But their protests "brought outside attention to the issue of environmental racism."
When local people are unable to find good jobs, economic development often takes precedence over protecting mountains, forests, rivers and the air.
The federal government itself, Scanlan argues, is guilty of "toxic colonialism."
Many military facilities to test nuclear weapons were set up near lands owned by Native Americans, exposing them not only to those tests, but to the long-term storage of hazardous waste.
Mountaintop removal mining is mentioned throughout the book. John Mitchell wrote in "National Geographic" that by the end of 2012, mountaintop removal mining will have leveled and devastated areas in Appalachia larger than the state of Rhode Island.
Environmental exploitation is a feature of "internal colonialism."
In her chapter "Pollution or Poverty: The Dilemma of Industry in Appalachia," Nancy Irwin Maxwell, an epidemiologist at Boston University, shows counties dependent on coal mining have the lowest incomes, highest poverty rates and lowest levels of education. And 25.5 percent of all homes in coal counties are mobile homes.
Chad Montrie, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, focuses on how coal companies shift many costs of mining away from themselves, in his chapter about activists opposing strip mining in Appalachia.
Federal agencies, state governments and individual property owners end up paying the bills to counter acid mine drainage, ruined roads, dry water wells, cracked home foundations, dust polluting the air, collapsing slurry dams and major flooding.
Strip mining, Montrie points out, "eroded what remained of mining employment in the region, since surface methods were much more efficient than underground methods."