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Letters by Sarah Vekasi
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February 10, 2012


Dear friends,

            We are halfway between winter and spring, yet it only feels like it in terms of the stuffy old politics reigning chaos in the coalfields these days. Our weather has been plenty mild, yet nothing brings on cabin fever like paying attention to the coal industry. Add to that new threats of fracking throughout the region, the on again off again pipeline plan, and a southern onslaught of nuclear expansion and I am ready for a season change, how about you?!

            There seems to be so much going on that I am just going to touch some of the highlights, so hold on to your hats.

            First of all, community members in Blair, West Virginia have been noticing increased activity by the mining company up on Blair Mountain, the very same mountain that the United Mine Workers of America fought a bloody battle on in 1921 and we marched to last summer. The history contained in that mountain, and the socio-ecological importance to the local communities cannot be over-estimated. So there is an action alert out today for a call-in to Arch Coal. Would you be willing to call up Arch Coal and ask/cajole/demand it cease all mining operations on Blair Mountain and focus efforts instead toward historical preservation? When I called I was transferred to the CEO Steven Leer’s voicemail, so be prepared. The information is:

Arch Coal’s St. Louis Headquarters Phone Number: (314) 994-2700

             At the same time, one of our young sheroes Catherine Ann was sentenced to spend a week in jail yesterday, after living in an oak tree for thirty days last summer up on Coal River Mountain in West Virginia. She works with the direct action group RAMPS: Radical Action for Mountain Peoples Survival. Catherine Ann went to jail with her head held high; while we all were aware of the bitter irony that Don Blankenship, and the leaders of Massey Energy, now Alpha Natural Resources, have still not spent a single night in jail after destroying nearly countless mountains throughout central Appalachia, and killing 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in 2010. If you are quick about it, you can send Catherine letters of gratitude at the following address: Catherine Ann MacDougal, Southern Regional Jail, 1200 Airport Road, Beaver, WV, 25813, or support the legal costs and ongoing work of RAMPS online at http://rampscampaign.org/ or through the mail at: Michael Bowersox, PO Box 51, Rock Creek, WV, 25174.

Meanwhile, there has been some relief through the court system. A few weeks ago a mighty lawsuit was finally settled between Patriot Coal and our hard-working environmental groups Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club and others, in which Patriot Coal is required to clean up its toxic selenium poisoning in its mines. This is a huge victory because only a few years ago the companies said it was impossible to do, and now it seems they will have to pay the true cost of mining coal, or at least more of it. There is more information about the settlement online at http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2012/01/18/breaking-patriot-agrees-to-huge-selenium-cleanup/

It seems like these highlights are just the tip of the iceberg. Next week on Feb. 14th is “I Love Mountains Day,” in Frankfort, Kentucky – an all day lobbying and action effort to end mountaintop removal hosted by the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (http://www.kftc.org/take-action/ilm-2012). In March there are all sorts of week-long action-training camps and alternative spring breaks going on throughout the region in KY, VA and WV, so if you are interested in learning more first hand, check out the calendar of events online through Mountain Justice at www.mountainjustice.org.

In an attempt to offer sanity throughout this, the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative is hosting a weekend Work That Reconnects workshop in Swannanoa, NC Feb. 17-19th, and you are invited! I first experienced the Work That Reconnects at a workshop by Joanna Macy while a seminarian in Boulder, CO, and the effect was tremendous. The workshop brings us through a cycle: first accessing our gratitude for being alive, an important skill to hone, so that we can then honestly and truly honor our pain for the world. From that place we see with new eyes, expand our sense of time and hence vision, and hone our intentions while we go forth with more clarity and focus than ever. I have been facilitating this work for six years now, and this is the first time to do so in Appalachia. I will be co-facilitating with Ellie Smith, and together we hope to have a very transformative and nourishing weekend. For more information and to register reply to this e mail, or online here.

I would love to work with any of you as an eco-chaplain. Let me know if you are interested in pastoral counseling, mediation, facilitation, the Work That Reconnects, etc. The Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative is running from your donations, and for that I am so grateful. To be a monthly or online donor, please go to http://www.ecochaplaincy.net/donate.html or send a check to the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative, PO Box 890, Swannanoa, NC 28778.

Thank you for calling Arch Coal and continuing to support the multi-faceted movement to end mountaintop removal coal mining!


Love and Solidarity,