US churches hold vigil to highlight mountaintop mining disaster

By staff writers
August 4, 2009

On the thirtieth anniversary of a historic piece of environmental legislation, the National Council of Churches USA hosted a candlelight vigil to remember the destruction caused by mountaintop removal mining.

The rally took place on 3 August 2009 in Lafayette Park, directly across from the White House.

"The purpose of the rally has been to remember the nearly 500 mountains already destroyed by mountaintop removal mining and to have people of faith call upon the federal government to end this destructive practice," said Jordan Blevins, Assistant Director of Public Lands and Wilderness and Coordinator of Poverty Initiatives for the National Council of Churches.

The vigil recalled the impact of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). On 3 August 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).

Designed to curtail the devastation done to the Appalachian mountains during various forms of strip-mining, it left significant loopholes open which allowed MTR to occur.

Intended as an alternative to traditional mining, mountaintop removal mining (MTR) is an inexpensive and quick form of coal mining practiced in the Appalachian regions of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Mountaintop removal mining exposes the coal located deep within the mountain, allowing it to be extracted more easily.

"Impacts of mountaintop removal have been devastating for the communities and environments of Appalachia," said Blevins. "More than seven percent of Appalachian hardwood forests, nearly 1.2 million acres, have been clear-cut and burned, and more than 1,200 miles of Appalachian headwater streams, which are connected to all major waters in the Southern US, have been buried or polluted with toxic mining waste between 1985 and 2001, while sludge dams represent the greatest threat to nearby communities, contaminating many drinking water supplies."

"The candlelight vigil was remembering the impacts of this practice to both God's people and God's Creation," said Blevins.

The National Council of Churches USA is the ecumenical voice of America's Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches, and has focused on 'creation care' for more than 30 years.

Among the highlights of the Council's eco-justice work are education and worship resources on land stewardship, available at

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