When people describe their first time seeing mountaintop removal coal mining, the response is invariably the same: dropped jaws and sunken hearts. Along with her prolific work in film and television (ER, Raising the Bar), Gloria Reuben is a tireless backer of clean energy, global public health, and climate sanity. She talks with TreeHugger Radio about the myth of clean coal, the grim tale of mountaintop removal, and her hopes for Copenhagen.
Listen to the podcast of this interview via iTunes, or just click here to listen, right-click to download. Music from Stars.TreeHugger: So Gloria, tell us what's new on the environmental front in your life.
Gloria Reuben: Well, things have really magnified within the last couple of years, as we all know, environmentally and with the awareness of climate change. I have been on the board of Waterkeeper Alliance for almost three years now, and was recently appointed vice chair of the board this past June. And the other two organizations, the National Wildlife Fund and the National Resources Defense Council, have recently folded into their missions and their efforts within the last eight or nine months. So things have really intensified and magnified with my participation in these organizations.
One of the things that has been a very large focus, under the umbrella of climate change of course, is the issue of coal mining; particularly mountaintop-removal coal mining here in the United States, which is obviously closely connected to the global issue of burning fossil fuels like coal and how it's clearly damaging our environment and our planet and our communities. So we've been very busy with that particular issue.
TreeHugger: When we spoke to Bobby Kennedy at Bonnaroo he just gave such vivid descriptions of what mountains look like when they've been torn apart. Have you had an opportunity to see these excavations in process?
Reuben: Yes, actually. Recently. I've been hearing Bobby speak about it for a while now since I've been involved. And I ended up shooting a TV segment for Planet Green on mountaintop-removal coal mining. I went to West Virginia, to Kayford Mountain and to the surrounding area, about three and a half weeks ago, and saw this devastation firsthand.
And I have to tell you, I have never in my life seen this kind of destruction on mother nature, and on the people that are left in these communities. Big coal has blown apart the unions so the communities surrounding these mountains are poverty-ridden, with high levels of asthma, cancer, and premature death.
But when I saw for the very first time a mountain that had recently been blasted apart, I didn't even know what to say. We just stood there in silence with our mouths agape. We couldn't believe it. And then for about an hour we flew over this particular part of the Appalachian mountain range, and we saw mountain after mountain after mountain just flattened like a moonscape, like nothing, just rock and gravel and barren.
And then you see the ash sludge, the toxic-sludge lagoons that are filled with billions of gallons of this coal slurry that seeps arsenic and selenium and mercury and lead into the groundwater. It's astounding to me that these corporations, that this industry gets away with doing what they've been doing for decades now.
Now every time that I talk to somebody or I hear about somebody who's a little bit on the fence about getting off of coal completely, I just want them to go to West Virginia. I want them to see these things in person, and then I want to hear what they have to say about this issue. It's completely devastating and it breaks your heart. And it's infuriating at the same time. It just makes me want to fight harder because it's just unacceptable.