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Letters by Sarah Vekasi
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March 8, 2010


March 8, 2010

Dear friends,

The campaign to end mountaintop removal is in full motion before my eyes as I write! Picture this– I am wearing a business suit, dressed to the nines in the basement of a church in Washington D.C. in a large room filled with mountain lovers from throughout the country. Over 200 of us came together over the weekend for the 5thwww.ilovemountains.org (you can see me in the back towards the middle wearing an orange sweater) asking for all of you to help us pass legislation to help end mountaintop removal. annual “Week in Washington” hosted by the Alliance for Appalachia to lobby our representatives to pass a law redefining valley ‘fill’ as waste which will help end mountaintop removal. On Sunday, all 205 of us made a video message found online at

If you only have a moment to read this letter I am going to make my ‘elevator ask’ right now so you can help us in this monumental effort by calling your representatives Tuesday or anytime this week to support theses bills during our national call in day.

            There is an incredible calling tool and information online at www.ilovemountains.org which will direct you to your representative and tell you if they have already sponsored the bills or not. If going online deters you, then please call the capitol switchboard office at 202-224-3121 and ask to speak with your representative and ask them to co-sponsor the

·     Clean Water Protection Act (HR1310) in the House of Representatives http://ilovemountains.org/write-your-rep/

·     and the Appalachia Restoration Act (S696) in the Senate http://ilovemountains.org/write-your-senators/

Before calling, check out if your representative has already signed on. If they have – say thanks, if they haven’t, ask them to! When you’re done, send me an e mail so I know how it went.

Both bills are one line long and would do wonders toward ending mountaintop removal since the valley fill process would no longer be legal. The Clean Water Protection Act originated in the House by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. who explains the act as, “a simple way to protect water quality and the quality of life for those affected by mountaintop mining.” He wrote in his ‘dear colleague letter’ to other representatives that “this bill would amend the Water Pollution Control Act to clarify that the ‘waste’ created from mountaintop mining can not be classified as ‘fill material,’ under federal law. This bill simply restores the definition of ‘fill material’ to the one used from 1977-2002.” Both the house and the senate versions of this bill are one line long

Y’all are probably wondering what happened in 2002 that changed the definition of coal waste into fill right? Well – it was an executive order by President Bush that legalized valley fills by way of re-defining fill. President Obama could sign a new executive order but we are lobbying for legislative change to make it long lasting.

I spent this entire day meeting with senators and senators’ aids in small groups. First thing this morning Sage and I went with Bob Kincaid and his son who are 8th and 9th generation West Virginians from Ansted, as well as few other folks from Washington state to Senator Maria Cantwell’s office (the Senator from Washington who was elected when I still lived in Olympia and Randle) and explained to her aid the process of mountaintop removal coal mining. The meeting was generally positive and her aid seemed interested but then later in the day Senator Cantwell herself ran into some of our other friends from West Virginia – Wendy Johnston and her kids Matthew and Rachel who were in the hallway handing out buttons and information and she asked them what they were up to and after hearing all about what it is like to live next to mountaintop removal mining put on a “I Love Mountains” button and asked them to come meet her again!

Later I met with Senator Susan Collins from Maine today in person, as well as an aid for Sen. Olympia Snowe, also from Maine. When we asked Senator Collins if she was aware of mountaintop removal and the Appalachia Restoration Act (S696) she replied that she was familiar with it but that today’s meeting was the first time she had met directly from a constituent about it. Both senators seemed friendly to the idea of co-sponsoring the bill if there is support in Maine to do so. The meetings were initiated by Martha Dickinson from Ellsworth, who had thrown together a quick petition last week before coming here and presented three pages of signatures in both offices today. Senator Collins was impressed and both senators will take notice for sure if all of you take the time to call her and/or even drop them each a letter asking them to co-sponsor the Appalachia Restoration Act. Rep. Michaud from Maine recently co-sponsored the house bill and now we need the senators as well. Please spread this far and wide with all of your friends and ask them to call in as well – it means a lot.

There are back to back meetings through Wednesday and Sage and I also plan to play Old Time fiddle tunes with some friends throughout the capitol buildings and by the White House any chance we get.

I am having a great time soaking up this city, but I am sure this won’t surprise any of you to hear that lobbying is not really my favorite activity. Don’t get me wrong, being in D.C. is exciting and fun, particularly after being snowed in to the cabin and rained in last week while home in Maine planning the wedding. There are a lot more ways I feel I can help communities in Appalachia and lobbying is not exactly why I moved out here. But you know what? I’ll bet that dressing up all fancy and going in to all of these offices is not a popular notion with many of the people here. We are here because for one week a year we can come together and add our weight to the legislative aspects of this movement.

Legislative action is a strong and necessary holding action. Holding actions like legislative work, direct action, letter writing and calling and organizing are vital to the Great Turning – the shift toward a life serving society away from the industrial growth era because holding actions stop nasty practices such as mountaintop removal coal mining which can preserve some of the natural resources and community health we need to survive while we also work simultaneously to create and implement shifts in structures like renewable energy technologies and a green-jobs-economy, and the consciousness about our vast interconnectedness and its implications spreads and grows. I feel like my presence here adds weight to this important holding action, and also opens up conversations about how we encounter this work while doing it too.

This is actually my second time to travel to D.C. in two weeks. I came here at the end of April to lobby with the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care – a coalition of religious groups and clergy who come together to add inter-religious weight to environmental issues – this year energy policy, forest protection and ending mountaintop removal. I was the lone Buddhist in the coalition this year – so if any other Buddhists, or any one of faith want to join next year, let me know. 

I came with Sage, Allen Johnson and Bob Marshall from Christians for the Mountains and our friend Larry Gibson from Kayford Mountain who presented an award on behalf of the group to Dr. James Hansen, the famed climatologist who directs the NASA Goddard Space Station and published the book Storms of My Grandchildren. Larry and James were both arrested together last summer at a demonstration in front of Marshfork Elementary School in Sundial, West Virginia – the school sitting directly under a 2.7 billion gallon sludge impoundment and in front of a coal processing plant. We all went to meetings together on “the Hill,” and lobbied as best we could. The coal industry may have enough money to put national television ads on television during the Olympics, but folks like Larry Gibson who have had their whole life affected by this mining can still made an impact by telling personal stories.

We all had the opportunity to meet with the Council of Environmental Quality at the White House and talk about the moral and ethical issues of environmental crises from a religious and spiritual perspective. When Sage and I introduced ourselves as living in Ansted and currently experiencing mountaintop removal firsthand there was noticeable understanding by the staff and later we were able to explain the plight of our neighbors and friends and ask for swifter positive action from the White House. The meeting didn’t really accomplish anything too tangible other than tell us that Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining is on the tips of everyone’s tongues these days in D.C.

I am sorry to cut this letter short, but I have to try and catch some sleep before all our meetings tomorrow. I actually tried to send this letter all day but due to a series of internet disasters, I am just sending it now before going to sleep. At any rate, the weather was finally sunny today and I can’t begin to tell you how good it felt to soak up some rays after all these weeks of snow and rain and winter while walking from meeting to meeting. Sage and I are going to try to stay in the city an extra day to at least go to the Botanical Garden and the Native American Museum if we can make it work out.

Thank you all for sharing this journey and helping us end the practice of mountaintop removal. I have a lot to tell you more explicitly about eco-chaplaincy, so that will come in another letter sooner than later.


May we all spend each day aware of the beauty of life!


Love and solidarity,