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Coal Hollow: Photographs and Oral Histories (Series in Contemporary Photography, Vol. 4)
Coal Hollow: Photographs and Oral Histories (Series in Contemporary Photography, Vol. 4)
Melanie Light
University of California Press, 2006
151 pp., $48.95

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Norman Wirzba

Throwaway People, Throwaway Land

The impact of "mountaintop removal."

In August 2004, a massive boulder loosened by mining blasts rolled down a Virginia hillside, crushing to death the sleeping three-year-old Jeremy Davidson. In the spring of 2000, soon-to-be college graduate Darlies Carter was returning home from work when she was struck head-on and killed by an out-of-control, overloaded coal truck driven by a Xanax-intoxicated driver. In October of the same year, over 300 million gallons of toxic coal sludge—thirty times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill—moved lava-like through eastern Kentucky and into West Virginia, choking to death everything in its path.

These tragedies did not make the national news. Nor will the many similar stories of ruined homes and gardens, poisoned water-wells, run-over children, flash floods, and destroyed headwater streams. Why? Because this is happening in Appalachia. Appalachian people and their region simply do not register in the national consciousness, even though their work and land is responsible for over 50 percent of the electricity that runs our nation. Listening to their heartache, as I did recently on an author's tour of mining-ravaged eastern Kentucky, and attending to the history of this region, one can well understand the frustration of a Martin County resident who said (referring to the sustained attention and assistance given to the disaster in Prince William Sound), "We're just not quite as cute as those otters." Given our national neglect and the naked greed and aggression of the coal industry, the stated conclusion of many Appalachian residents is that they have become "throwaway people."

More than 150 years ago, Henry David Thoreau said that people know the natural world only as robbers. In order to make more money, we will stop at nothing. Armed with the latest technology, we now have the capability to blow the whole creation to hell. As the history of Appalachia and its people so clearly shows, it is a capability that is being fully realized and refined.

Missing Mountains, ...

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