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 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
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
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
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 KayfordMountain
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!