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