In March 2012, the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s highest elected official Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons had this to say concerning MTR operations in his home state of Tennessee:
"Mountaintop removal coal mining is an unacceptable desecration of God's good creation. In a state that is known for its beautiful mountains, destroying these mountains simply doesn't make sense. Recent studies have also shown that mountaintop-removal-related water pollution seriously damages the health of people who live downstream from mine sites. These studies find shocking increases in health problems, including birth defects in newborn babies. As our faith has taught us to care about our neighbors, so we are also called to speak out against these injustices."
To his credit, Sen. Rockefeller has recently made statements that indicate he recognizes some of the problems of mountaintop removal mining, and - more importantly - that he wants the coal industry to stop its scare tactics and come to the table to discuss a more sustainable and diverse future for West Virginia. We hope and pray that other elected leaders will follow his example, because this kind of inciting rhetoric could cause needless violence and tragedy.
Thus, we ask that West Virginia Coal Association leaders and affiliates resolve - immediately - to stop calling people into battle, using "war on coal" rhetoric. This divisive speech prevents people in communities from honestly assessing the often heavy cost of these mining operations on their lives - from a lost cemetery or battleground, to lost lives due to birth defects or cancer. This rhetoric also prevents productive dialogue concerning economic transition initiatives.
Such talks may seem threatening to Coal Association affiliates, but they really must happen if average West Virginians are to have hope for a future wherein our children can find jobs and a healthy and stable environment in which to live. The scientific evidence is here to support the observations of many people over the past several decades: mountaintop removal mining is linked to vast health problems, water and air pollution, and community degradation. We must put the interests of most West Virginia citizens over the financial interests of a few, and work cooperatively for viable and sustainable economic opportunities for this state, including retraining opportunities for currently employed miners.
The very first step on this journey is to drop the "war on coal" rhetoric. West Virginia Coal Association affiliates please take the moral high road and do so immediately!
Blakeman, is a Stewardship of Creation Enabler for the W.Va. Presbytery and parish associate at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church in Huntington.
This commentary was also signed by Helen Gibbins of Bates Presbyterian Church and the state Presbytery Stewardship of Creation Ministry Team; the Rev. Rebecca Barnes-Davies, associate for Environmental Ministries with the Presbyterian Church; Allen Johnson, coordinator of Christians for the Mountains; the Rev. Jim Deming, Minister for Environmental Justice, Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ; the Rev. Jim Lewis of the Episcopal Church; the Rev. Denise Giardina, deacon of the Episcopal Church; Jeannie Kirkhope, administrative director of the Catholic Committee for Appalachia, Appalachian Catholic Worker; the Rev. Bonnie Boyce of Spring Valley Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Dr. David Dalrymple of the Unitarian Universalist Church; the Rev. Rose Edington and the Rev. Mel Hoover, co-ministers of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Charleston; the Rev. Mary Bettis Love of the Presbyterian Church; Stephen Bartlett, member of Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church in Louisville and director of Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville; the Rev. Stan Holmes, an Episcopal priest; and Nick Reynolds, an Episcopalian in Huntington.