Series Explores the History and Impact of Coal Mining in the Appalachians

A series of public events will examine the environmentally destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia and envision a coal-free future for the region.

The series, titled “Appalachia in Transition: Beyond Mountaintop Removal Mining,” is sponsored by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES).

“Mountaintop removal mining is the single-most devastating ecological event in our country, and few Americans outside Appalachia seem to know it is happening,” says Kristin Tracz, a master’s student at F&ES. “We will try to highlight our own proximity to coal mining, as well as foster a dialogue about what alternatives to extractive industries exist in the region.”

The mining process involves decapitating mountaintops to expose underlying coal seams. The excess rock and soil are often dumped into nearby valleys and streams, resulting in the deforestation of one of the nation’s most biodiverse regions and the illness of nearby residents who come into contact with affected streams or are exposed to airborne toxins and dust.

“Appalachia in Transition” also will explore an alternative, sustainable future by highlighting current economic development programs on agriculture, local enterprise and renewable energy.

The series opened on Feb. 18 with the “Mountaintop Removal Road Show” by Dave Cooper of Mountain Justice, and continued with “Welcome to the Saudi Arabia of Coal,” a play by the Coal Free Future Project about the nation’s legacy of coal mining. The following is a list of future events, all free and open to the public. Unless otherwise noted, they will take place in Burke Auditorium, Kroon Hall, 195 Prospect St.

• An ongoing exhibit by photojournalist Antrim Caskey that chronicles the community impacts of mountaintop removal mining and the grassroots struggles to oppose the practice. It will be on view on the third floor of Kroon Hall.

• A special screening of the movie, “Coal Country,” in which miners, coal company officials and area residents weigh in on the high price of “cheap energy.” Wednesday, March 3, 6:30 p.m.

• “Beyond Coal: Appalachian Alternatives,” a panel discussion examining how small business development, sustainable agriculture and renewable energy initiatives in Appalachia are leading a transition from an economy reliant on coal to a diversified, just and sustainable economy. The panelists will be Justin Maxson of Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, Evan Hansen of Downstream Strategies and Denise Barrett of Appalachian Sustainable Development. Tuesday, March 23, 7 p.m.

• “There Used to Be a Mountain Here: MTR’s Impacts on Ecology, Human Health and Community Well-Being,” a panel discussion featuring Larry Gibson from Kayford Mountain in West Virginia, who will describe his fight to save his family homestead from mountaintop removal mining; Dr. Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland, who will discuss her findings as lead author of a recent Science article on MTR’s impacts; Dr. Michael Hendryx of West Virginia University and Samir Doshi of University of Vermont, who will discuss the human health impacts and the science of restoration. Thursday April 15, time to be determined.

• A panel discussion on the tumultuous legal battles to enforce responsible mining practices. Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council and John Morgan, a mining engineer, will discuss some of the policy, legal and technical challenges related to mountaintop removal mining. Monday, April 19, 7 p.m.

For more information about the series, contact YalebeyondMTR@gmail.com.

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