Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Earth Day 2008 Sermon

Mountaintop Removal
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Excerpts from a sermon by Donna on our Earth Day service this year.

Well, I’m wondering how many of you are ready for a break from school, let me see your hands. Me too! I’m going to be quoting today
from some men for whom I have a great deal of respect and the first one is my dad, William Seth Helton, who went to be with God last June - and who apparently by the end of his senior year in high school was rather tired of school.

My mom let me have his yearbook after he died and there were little snippets about him in the yearbook that didn’t surprise me. His senior weakness was listed as quietness and in another spot it said “If silence is golden, William Helton is rich” and in another place “William Helton likes farming, always says work won’t do no harming…”

My dad loved walking in the woods behind our house and the mountains and being in nature in general. He was at home there. One of the ways I’ve chosen to honor his life is to try to work to protect the Appalachian mountains and to familiarize myself more with the critters that he loved and revered.

So in June of 2006, our family was driving to the Cowan Creek Mountain Music Camp in Whitesburg, KY for a family vacation and Dan who can spot a hawk two miles up in the sky it seems while driving was going on and on with Sarah about how sometimes endangered animals aren’t exotic ones living halfway across the globe, sometimes they are right here in our own state and right under our own feet.

He was waxing on and on about the Cerulean warbler, a bird with which I was completely unfamiliar but which is or at least used to be prevalent in Eastern Kentucky and about taking responsibility for the earth’s creatures. It was pretty late and we decided to drive through the Hardees in Hazard and get something to eat since we would be really late getting to Whitesburg and sitting in the drive-thru we heard
something shrieking.

We found a little bitty kitten in the parking lot, emaciated and alone, and Sarah was quick to point out that sometimes endangered animals are not exotic, but are right here in our own state and right under our feet and how we are responsible for them. And that is how we acquired one of our cats, Duke. Duke of Hazard…

While we were in Whitesburg, we met some incredible Kentucky musicians and had the opportunity to take classes with them. But we began to hear snippets about their lives that were disturbing. We heard from Randy, the banjo teacher who can play a banjo made out of a fruitcake tin made for him by his neighbor, has spent $5,000 just trying to have clean water.

We heard from Roy – a guitar teacher who gave Jordan the handy hint that girls love guitar players – couldn’t shut his front door after a
coal company blasted the top off a mountain near him. When he invited the coal company to come to his house, the coal company rep said that it must be the humidity that caused the door not to close.

On Wednesday of that week we decided to… go on a mountaintop removal tour with Kentuckians for the
and we were stunned to see what was happening to the landscape in this part of our state not so far away.

We have heard since about others who have been witness to constant dust, flooding, mudslides, cracked foundations in their houses, polluted wells, 500 injuries caused by coal trucks, other health issues, and boulders called flyrock landing in their yards and family cemeteries.

Most disturbing is the story of Jeremy Davidson, a three year boy in
Virginia, who was sleeping soundly at 2:30 in the morning when some flyrock, a boulder the size of a microwave, came crashing onto his bed.

The first mountaintop removal operation began in 1970 and in 1972, a coal impoundment dam collapsed at Buffalo Creek resulting in over 100 fatalities and in October of 2000 the bottom of a coal waste pond near the town of Inez KY collapsed pouring 250 million gallons of slurry or sludge, 25 times the amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster into an underground mine shaft , flooding two creeks causing the water systems in ten counties serving 27,000 people to be shut down.

And it is easy to point fingers at and tsk tsk about coal companies, but when you go to ilovemountains.org, you can find your own connection to mountaintop removal. I am a customer of LG&E, which purchases coal from a coal company that does MTR in communities like Rawl, West Virginia, where resident Donetta Blankenship says her water runs out of the pipe like tomato soup, thick with orange sediment.

Corporate greed, corrupt politics, and an insatiable appetite (our own) for supposedly cheap energy have resulted in the planned destruction of a national treasure with the highest level of biodiversity in the country. Over 470 mountains and over 420 miles of Kentucky’s headwater streams have been permanently destroyed and over 60,000 acres of valley fills currently exist…

So let me wrap up and get to the altar call here. What am I asking of
you today?

I am asking that you do one or more but even better all of the

Stroll in the woods as often as you can...

Get excited about woodchucks and bluejays and tree toads.

Look for the endangered species maybe right under your feet and learn something new about them that you didn’t know before.

Go to ilovemountains.org or just google mountaintop removal and read and read and read. Look carefully at the pictures of decimated mountains and learn of the impact on those living nearby and consider the impact on those of us who are downstream.

Put February 14, 2009, on your calendar right now (I Love the Mountains Day rally).

Write your legislators.

Join Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

Go on a mountaintop removal tour.

Read your LG&E bill carefully and reduce your usage.

Recall Jeremiah's biblical warning:

Destruction upon destruction is cried,
For the whole land is plundered...
For My people are foolish,
They have not known Me.
They are silly children,
And they have no understanding.

I beheld the mountains, and indeed they trembled,
And all the hills moved back and forth.
I beheld, and indeed there was no one,
And all the birds of the heavens had fled.
I beheld, and indeed the fruitful land was a wilderness...

For I have heard a voice as of a woman in labor,
The anguish as of her who brings forth her first child,
The voice of the daughter of Zion bewailing herself;
She spreads her hands, saying,

‘ Woe is me now, for my soul is weary
Because of murderers!’

And as you go, recall John Muir's blessing:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves...

Keep close to Nature's heart...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.



At 5/27/08, 7:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mean the coal company whose flyrock boulder killed that little boy was blasting at 2:30 in the morning? Are you sure about that?

At 5/27/08, 7:40 AM, Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Good question. That does seem unusual. Nonetheless, the story is real, and the event happened at night, although I couldn't verify the time.

[ source]

Note: The boulder that killed the child was dislodged by a bulldozer, not from blasting.

At 5/27/08, 8:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it was dislodged by a bulldozer as I have read, it wasn't a flyrock. Where can I get documentation on the 500 injuries from coal truck crashes? That should be enough to get the state to take action. Thanks

At 5/27/08, 9:06 AM, Blogger Dan Trabue said...

You obviously don't live in coal country!

As to the documentation, you can google and start reading about it. Here's a story from the Chicago Tribune.

Here's a list of resources from KFTC.

Here's some info from a group called Appalachian Voices.

I will ask my wife and see if she can provide something more specific.

At 5/29/08, 4:54 AM, Blogger CG said...

Neither the boulder that killed the boy (in my home county) or the Buffalo Creek Flood (and I knew families who lived through that) were related AT ALL to mountain top removal.

At 5/29/08, 11:22 PM, Anonymous green thinking said...

I also, as I think most people do, have a healthy instinct that if we upset the balance of nature, we are in all probability going to suffer a reaction. With world growth, and population as it is, this reaction must increase

At 5/31/08, 7:26 PM, Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Thanks for your comments all, I'll correct any mistakes as soon as I get a chance, with my apologies. Donna had squeezed a lot into this sermon and I had reduced it further, so I may have wrongfully cut out some info or she may have mistakenly cited some info. It will be corrected.

The gist still stands, though. We are over-dependent on coal and have allowed destructive practices to get by without holding the companies accountable or without holding ourselves accountable for our part in it.

Thanks again.

At 6/4/08, 8:52 AM, Blogger CG said...

I would suggest Night Comes to the Cumberlands as reading to get a better understanding of the coalfields. Personally, I'm all for the new coal fired electricity plant in Virginia City (as are most natives to the place, that is my home county and less than 50 miles from where I live) that will burn slag (which caused Buffalo Creek). Until people choose to use less, drastically less, like third world lifestyle less, energy (which I do), "overdependence" is what we'll have. Until people embrace a philosophy and lifestyle of independence (which I do), it is what we will have.

At 10/22/09, 8:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our family moved from Man in Logan County just before the Buffalo Creek disaster -- I was about 13. If I remember right, a pile of coal slag was backing up water upstream on Buffalo Creek (red dog, containing hot coals, building up steam inside the pile,) and exploded, breaking the artificial dam. Our dog, Dee Dee, road out the flood on a mattress as the house of her new owners was washed away.

The mining in Logan County at that time wasn't strip mining, or taking off mountain tops, but digging it out from below ground.

Neat to read your article - now live in the Rum River watershed of Minnesota - interesting history here too -- always good to watchdog the situation. KE 10-22-09


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