Save the Appalachians!
Mountaintop removal activist to visit WCC
MOUNTAINROADSHOW.COM COURTESY PHOTO
When Larry Gibson was a boy, he climbed to the top on his family’s mountain in West Virginia, and mountains towered around him. Some fifty years later, mountaintop removal coal mining has flattened everything around Gibson’s Kayford Mountain.
But Gibson is fighting to save his mountain and the Appalachians, and more than ten years ago, Dave Cooper joined him in the cause.
“Seeing Larry’s mountain was a life-changing experience for me,” Cooper said. “The coal companies are trying to get his mountain, but he won’t sell it because it’s his heritage. He grew up on this mountain — all his family ancestors are buried on top of his mountain.”
Cooper, a Kentucky native, quit his job as a mechanical engineer and started traveling the country with his Mountaintop Removal Road Show. Cooper will speak at Washtenaw Community College on Thursday, Oct. 26 from 1-2:30 p.m. to tell the story of “Larry’s mountain” and the consequences of mountaintop removal mining.
Although Cooper spoke at WCC last year, Ian Griffin, director of Student Activities and Development, decided to bring the presentation back.
“It was just exceedingly interesting, and up until that point, I really had not heard about mountaintop removal in that great of detail,” Griffin said. “It’s a really stunning story.”
Mountaintop removal mining has gone on since the 1970s, when coal companies realized it would be much faster and cheaper to access rich deposits of coal in the Appalachians by blasting mountains apart rather than hiring underground miners. Since the practice first began, Appalachian communities have suffered tremendous damages.
Mountaintop removal causes flooding for people who live in mountain valleys. When the mountains are stripped of absorptive trees, what remains becomes like a roof with the hollows like a gutter, Cooper explained.
The practice also destroys water because the mining exposes rainfall to heavy metals.
“So when rain runs downstream, instead of having pure mountain spring water purified by forests, you have contaminated water,” Cooper said.
And the Appalachian Mountains are one of the oldest and most biologically diverse mountain ranges in the world.
“It’s destroying our states; it’s destroying our water; it’s destroying our forests,” Cooper said of the practice. “When they’re done mining, they don’t plant trees back — they just spray grass seed, then they go on and get another mountain. And they can take a mountain down in about a year now.”
Mountaintop removal mining also disrupts communities with 24-hour noise — and falling debris.
“There’s blasting of the mountain above their homes, so occasionally you’ll have rocks come crashing down in the community,” Cooper said.
Coal companies have to get government permits for each mining site, so companies give the states’ legislators large amounts of campaign money — in return for help with regulations, Cooper said.
“Legislators aren’t listening to their own people — they’re definitely not looking out for the long-term interests of the people,” Cooper said. “This is a cut-and-run kind of deal: The coal companies come in, blow up the mountain, grab the coal and then their gone. And what’s going to be left 20 or 30 years from now?”
But recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Obama administration pulled 79 permits to look at more closely, an action Cooper applauds.
“The Obama administration has been much better than the Bush administration so far,” Cooper said. “But what we want is a ban on mountaintop removal. They can mine coal with underground mining — and that would actually put a lot of people back to work and create a lot of jobs.
“We’ve got a couple more years, and we’re going to stop it.”
Handle with extreme caution: Asbestos removed in WCC kitchen renovations
Workers renovating the Culinary Arts kitchen encountered potentially dangerous asbestos, used as insulation in several of the college’s older buildings. But officials say this is routine and posed no danger.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asbestos has been used in numerous building materials. Exposure to asbestos in the air “may cause serious lung diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma,” according to the agency.
“The campus was built at a time when asbestos was used as insulation, and so every renovation project, we run into asbestos,” said Washtenaw Community College President Larry Whitworth. “We follow all of the regulations regarding asbestos. We treat this very, very seriously. But getting rid of it is part of the whole renovation process.”
The EPA said that having asbestos in schools is “not necessarily” dangerous.
“Undamaged asbestos that is properly managed in place poses little health risk to students or teachers,” the EPA said.
“We test any area we go in,” said Damon Flowers, associate vice president of Facilities Development and Operations. “If you know the age of the building, you know if there’s asbestos.”
Flowers said that the Gunder Myran (GM) and Business Education (BE) buildings do not have asbestos present, but older buildings like the Student Center (SC), Technical and Industrial (TI) building and the Crane Liberal Arts and Science (LA) building do.
Flowers said the college follows procedures mandated by the state when dealing with asbestos.
“These are things we have to deal with as part of what we do,” Flowers said.
To learn more about asbestos, visit: http://epa.gov