MCS sends a letter to Obama

Dear President Obama,
We are 7th and 8th grade students from Manhattan Country School, a small independent school in New York City, founded on the beliefs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Every year our school chooses an activism project to work on. Over the course of the year, we vote on a topic, research it, fundraise for it, and act on it. This year our topic is mountaintop removal, a destructive form of coal mining.

Mountaintop removal is the process of blasting off the top of mountains to access coal buried inside. It leaves wildlife and nature in distress. Our goal is to abolish mountaintop removal and to help communities that have been affected by this form of mining. Mountaintop removal is practiced widely in Appalachia, one of the poorest regions in the union. We took a trip to West Virginia to learn about this issue first hand. We met with passionate activists from Coal River Mountain Watch and Climate Ground Zero. We also met with Larry Gibson, whose family has been living on West Virginia’s Kayford Mountain for hundreds of years. Larry has guarded his 50 acres with an iron fist from the Patriot Coal Company. His property is surrounded by land that has been devastated by mountaintop removal. As we walked through what Larry called “Hell’s Gate,” we encountered a place where Earth died and Hell began. We saw a human-created desert. Green hills surrounded stark piles of rubble and waste, where trucks rumbled back and forth carrying loads of newly excavated coal and waste. The sight of the destruction left us in tears.

We also visited Coal River Mountain Watch, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to stop mountaintop removal mining and to rebuild sustainable communities in the Coal River Valley. We interviewed activists about their goals and we learned of their personal experiences with the hardships of the mining industry. Coal River Wind, a project of Coal River Mountain Watch, is working to place wind turbines on Coal River Mountain. This could provide enough energy to power seventy to eighty thousand homes forever, but right now coal companies are in the process of destroying this mountain for coal.

President Obama, we don’t have time to wait. Children in Marsh Fork Elementary, which is situated directly beneath a Massey Energy processing plant, are suffering from respiratory illnesses, and living in fear that the slurry impoundment above their school will break, filling the valley with the toxic slurry, a bi-product of “cleaning” coal. That is not right.

President Obama, it’s time to perfect our union. We commend you on the proposed EPA guidelines, but there is still more to do. We need you to push legislation like the Clean Water Protection Act in the House of Representatives and the Appalachia Restoration Act in the Senate to protect the Appalachian Mountains and the watershed region stretching from the Ohio River Valley down to New Orleans. President Obama, you tell your daughters to clean their rooms; we need you to tell the energy companies to clean up their mess. You have pledged to focus on green energy, and have mistakenly included “clean coal” in the same category as renewable energy. Government money
should not be used to expand the coal industry. We urge you to focus on wind and solar power. Save the American people’s mountains, water, homes, and lives. President Obama, we pay a very high price for cheap energy. Let’s stop paying and start living.

Remember the mountains and generations to come.

The 7th and 8th grade of Manhattan Country School

MCS meets with Rep. Carolyn Maloney

On Monday, June 7th the lobbying group met with Carolyn Maloney and her staff to urge her to take a leadership role in stopping MTR. They presented her with the following letter.

Dear Congresswoman Maloney:

Manhattan Country School (MCS) in New York City is a school built on the belief that everyone should have a voice.In September, we decided that our yearly activism project should address Mountain Top Removal, a destructive type of coal mining. We all believed that this was a topic that was not only addressing an environmental issue, but an issue of civil rights.

We all realized that the people in coal mining areas of our country’s southern mountains were being exploited. Their communities and environments that they live in were getting destroyed. This was all happening because of our need for cheap energy.

The 7th and 8th graders at MCS made a goal to go to West Virginia, and get a more personal view of what was happening in our country’s coal fields. We needed to raise 30,000 dollars to reach our goal. We did this through a movie showing, a folk music event, and donations from friends and family. On May 23rd, we traveled ten hours to get to West Virginia to further educate ourselves about what we had been hearing about in our classes that addressed MTR. We met activists like Judy Bonds and Larry Gibson, who told us about their experiences living in Appalachia. We heard about their objections to coal and MTR, and what their goals were. We learned how we could be better student activists, and how affective it was to let people know what we are thinking.

We, as 7th and 8th grade activists, are passionate about the work we have been doing for the past nine months. We believe that we should all have rights to a healthy life and environment.

In Appalachia, the coal industries are using heavy explosives to blast off the tops of mountains in order to retrieve the coal buried within them to power America’s electrical appliances. This process of coal mining is called Mountaintop Removal, and it is the most efficient and most destructive form of coalmining there is.

Mountaintop Removal can turn the pure waters of Appalachia into poison. When the coal is extracted, the waste is shoved over the side, into the streams and the valleys. The solids block off the flow of the streams while the coal dust poisons the water. Most humans can only live up to three days without water. Just a few days ago, we saw a Mountaintop Removal coal-mining site. When we were there, we felt faint and short of breath. The entire mountain had disappeared. We thought to ourselves, “This used to be a whole Appalachian mountain. Now it’s just a flat rock plain. Where did the mountain go?” Now we know what happened. The mountain was pushed down into the creeks. Not into the creek though, but rather onto the creek, buried the creek and poisoned water that was perfectly pure.

All the water on earth is connected. These creeks lost under the rubble are linked to small rivers, which are linked to bigger rivers, which are linked to the Gulf. If one is poisoned or blocked, all the rest are also poisoned. An environmental scientist, Doctor Margaret Palmer recently called the headwater streams in our mountains the capillaries of the water bodies. If the circulation is killed on one, that part of the body dies.

We have shown how coal can harm the environment and water from above the ground. Unfortunately, coal can also pollute water from underneath the ground too. In Prenter, West Virginia, coal companies in the late 80’s injected coal slurry into abandoned underground mines. Coal slurry, or coal sludge, is what comes off of coal when it is processed and is either put into a huge dam or injected underground. The toxic sludge then leaches into the water table and poisons whole communities. Coal slurry is very unhealthy containing large quantities of Mercury, lead, and arsenic plus the chemicals that were used to wash the coal. The Mercury in the coal sludge has been know to create birth defects in newborn children. Coal sludge also contains Hydrogen Sulfide gas in which there was an average of 30 parts per million per household. At 1 part per million water starts to smell like rotten eggs and 15 parts per million is the legal evacuation level. Because of the water pollution, people in Prenter have to import their water, which is another fee added to the already failing economy. Just recently we spoke with the mom who’s son attended to the same school as a boy named Josh McCormick. Josh McCormick died at the age of twenty-two of liver disease. Not only does the water at Prenter poison people, it is also a fire hazard. Some people in communities with contaminated water can actually light their water on fire.

Adults always tell us to clean our rooms.

What about their own mess?

What about the mess that they’ve left for us in the world?

For decades, coal has been dirtying our world. Pollution of water has been coming from top and bottom. Rubble and dust have eventually gone into water after mountains have been destroyed, where the water is no longer drinkable or usable. Coal slurry is also often injected down into abandoned underground mines, where it leaks into water wells that are used day-today.

Any time we flick on a light switch, a mountain is destroyed, and water is polluted.

When you walk down Times Square, what do you think about?

Now after being in West Virginia, we think differently.

When we see the wonderful lights over Times Square, we think about the black sludgy water we encountered in Whitesville, West Virgina.

When we see an iPod charging, we think about the families in Prenter, WV, who are forced use their tap water even though of the disgusting injections of coal slurry into the ground have ruined it.

Do you think about the same things as us?

We are truly appreciative that you have decided to sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act, but we have another request for you. We want you to take a serious leadership role in this act. We want this mess to be cleaned up, and we can not do this without your help. The Clean Water Protection Act protects lives of people living in Appalachia by guaranteeing them safe water for drinking and using.

If you take leadership, the mess that the adults have left us will begin to be cleaned up.

If you take leadership, our future will no longer to be feared but embraced. We will be able to live a healthy and clean life, just because we have safe water to use.

It is up to you to take the first steps to clean up this mess.

Thank you so much for already signing on to sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act
7th Grade Students
Manhattan Country School

Sharing our experiences; advocating for change

On our final day in West Virginia we hosted a teach-in. The kids worked in 9 different groups with teachers & WV activists to develop ways to share their experiences in WV and advocate for the people, mountains and water of West Virginia back in our New York City community. Groups focused on designing a poster (see above), writing a song, lobbying our house rep, writing a letter to obama, making art, writing an editorial, producing a film, putting together a film exhibit, and stopping the proposed purgen power plant in Linden, NJ.

As the projects are completed we will post them to this blog.