I wrote this article for the June 2010 issue of Sojourners Magazine.
In April, the Environmental Protection Agency announced rules that could significantly reduce mountaintop-removal mining in the U.S. For longtime activists like Allen Johnson, co-founder of the group Christians for the Mountains (CFTM), it’s proof that “hope is not always in vain”—but only one step of a long journey towards environmental and economic justice in coal-mining areas of Appalachia.
Hope has long been kept alive by people like Kayford, West Virginia’s Larry Gibson, who hasn’t been afraid to stand up to the principalities and powers to protect his family’s mountain. Gibson has literally put his life on the line, facing gunshots, death threats from coal company supporters, and even the killing of his dogs.
According to Gibson, mountaintop removal, in which companies blow up mountains with dynamite to access coal, “destroyed over 3 million acres of mountains, 1.5 million in West Virginia alone.” Gibson calls the boundary between his property and the area destroyed by mountaintop removal “Hell’s Gate,” because no one can live on the other side.