"Coal" Is A Dirty Word In Troubling New Documentary


Image credit: Photo of mountaintop removal coal mining at Kayford Mine, West Virginia. © 2006 B. Mark Schmerling, courtesy Sierra Club Library

A new award-winning film premiering on Planet Green on November 14 will change the way you think about coal. It will make you sick -- it might also make you cry -- to see entire mountaintops blown apart to reach the coal inside. This practice has destroyed folks' lives and sparked a civil war among residents of Appalachia -- all so we can turn our lights on at night.The documentary is called Coal Country, and the Sierra Club will send you a free 45-minute sneak preview DVD version of the film if you'll help us spread the word by hosting a screening in your home the week before the premiere. The house parties will include a conference call with Appalachia residents, leaders of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, film star Ashley Judd, and others. (There's also a companion book by Sierra Club Books and a CD soundtrack available with music by Gillian Welch, Willie Nelson, Kathy Mattea, John Prine, and others.)

The Sierra Club's philosophy on coal is that, as quickly as possible, the U.S. should move away from it as an energy source. Aside from the issues raised in Coal Country, it is a major contributor to climate change. Thankfully, the shift away from coal is progressing -- this summer our Beyond Coal campaign celebrated the fact that more than 100 new coal-fired power plants have been prevented or abandoned in this country over the past eight years. But more work is needed.


Coal Country focuses on mountaintop removal coal mining, and if you haven't seen what that looks like, watch this video. Executive producer Mari-Lynn Evans and writer/producer/director Phylis Geller interviewed working miners along with activists who are battling coal companies. We meet folks who are concerned about jobs and the economy, and who believe they're acting responsibly in bringing power to the nation's residents. We also meet people whose families have lived in the region for generations and have loved and tended the land -- many of them miners - whose lives are now being torn apart, driven from their homes by pollution and round-the-clock noise.

More than 500 mountains have been leveled by this coal-mining practice, and more are under threat right now. Many of you reading this post are benefiting from the power generated by the coal mined using this practice -- but have no idea what's going on or the effect it is having on the Appalachian people, and in one of the world's most bio-diverse ecosystems.

In the film, you meet people who are all too aware. I'd like to introduce you to a few:

Kathy Selvage -- A coal miner's daughter whose family couldn't sleep at night, or keep their windows open due to noise and dust, or simply sit on the front porch because of a mountaintop-mining operation nearby. She became a grassroots organizer.

Randall Maggard -- A coal company manager who believes coal is an important energy source for the country and a vital source of jobs in the region. In the documentary he points to reclamation on these mining sites, where the flattened mountaintops have been replanted or sold for new housing and industrial parks.

Chuck Nelson -- A retired union coal miner who was horrified by the dust and debris threatening his town when a coal-processing plant opened there. He began to protest and now works full time with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, organizing the protect land and water.

I urge you to meet these people and introduce them to others around you by holding a house party and screening the special version DVD. We'll provide you with everything you need -- the DVD, a house party guide, a web page where you can describe your event and invite others, and take-action materials. If you live in an area that benefits from coal power of any kind, you owe it to Appalachia to see Coal Country, learn more about what happens when you turn on your lights, and work to move America into a clean-energy future.

Tags: Coal

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