Monday, January 30, 2012

Gainesville Loves Mountains is Moving Forward!

Post Written by Gainesville, FL resident Jason Fults

Since Larry Gibson's successful visit to Gainesville, FL last March, we have been hard at work pursuing an official policy to end the purchase of Mountaintop Removal coal by our municipally-owned utility.

We started a Facebook page for our group, “Gainesville Loves Mountains,” and asked citizens to contact their Commissioners and the utility to speak out against Mountaintop Removal. We received lots of positive media attention and it was clear that the Commission was hearing from people. I've seen firsthand that the more people learn about Mountaintop Removal, the less they want to be connected to it.

While we are having an impact on our Commissioners, the technocrats at our utility's fuels division have been steadfast in their opposition to any sort of restrictions on where they purchase their coal. As recently as last week, the Assistant General Manager of the utility was stating publicly that they remain “...reasonably agnostic on where the coal comes from, other than we prefer deep-mine coal for performance reasons.” Yet as we continued our campaign, other forces were at work.

As it turns out, the growing availability of natural gas, resulting partly from the controversial gas drilling practice known as “fracking,” has driven fuel prices so low that in recent months the bottom appears to have come out from under the coal markets. Whereas our utility had previously considered deep-mined coal a luxury it could only sometimes afford, and had been using approximately 60% Mountaintop Removal coal, we were able this year to sign 1-year contracts for nearly 100% deep-mined coal and still come in under budget.

It is an awkward position to be in, to have “won” our local campaign against purchasing Mountaintop Removal coal, thanks in large part to another highly destructive mining practice. This “victory” is obviously inadequate, and our campaign will continue. Our goals for 2012 include:

• Continuing to discuss Mountaintop Removal at every opportunity. We'll host more film screenings and Appalachian activists this year, and continue to build public support in advance of the next round of coal contract negotiations later this year.

• Building a bridge between Gainesville and the Appalachian communities that provide our coal. One definitive victory that our campaign has had is a line item in all new coal contracts that requires the companies to disclose any major environmental violations. We'll be watching.

• Educating ourselves, our community, and our Congressional representatives on any federal efforts to ban Mountaintop Removal mining.

• Supporting a local effort for a more aggressive energy conservation ordinance that will move our community closer to a future free of electricity generated from fossil-fuels.

We want to hear what folks up in Appalachia have to say about our efforts, and want to encourage other communities that consume Mountaintop Removal coal to duplicate our campaign. Please contact us with any feedback, questions, or resources you have to offer.


Jason Fults, on behalf of Gainesville Loves Mountains


Monday, January 9, 2012

The Mountain Top

The Mountain Top

                                             Kayford, West Virginia

The mountain man points across a half-mile gap
to a hill where silver leaves shiver in strong gusts,
to family graves, centuries old, unreachable
without permission from the coal company.

Coal keeps the lights on, the company brags.
On in the funeral parlor, the mountain man says,
inviting Jim and me to visit what’s left of his hill
since the dragline shovel devoured Appalachia.

Face smudged, boots soaked in sludge,
the old coal miner still hoists hammer
and pick to a rocky ledge, sets charges,
chokes on dust, coughs blood, dies hard.

And now comes the behemoth, ten stories high
with a button’s push swallows the mountain,
each bite 50,000 tons of sandstone and root,
heaves its maw into the hollows below. 

Soil, forest, whatever’s above the black seams,
the company calls waste or overburden.
Inside the shovel the word is spoil, and once
the river’s sunk, fish killed, they speak of fill.

Taking the miner out of mining means 8 billion
pounds of explosives; 800 million acres
of forest; 500 mountains collapsed—leaves
the fresh yellow-painted signs saying HAZARD

               DO NOT EAT BASS
               BEYOND THIS POINT


We take the risky ride over washed-out gravel.
Dark leaf canopy, walls of sheer rock shadow
the way. Mud ditches raise the peril, coal
trucks racing down, hogging the road.

At the sunny crest, the mountain man guides us
past a yellow crack the size of a barbeque pit.
He calls it land rupture; I lean over to see where
it leads—straight down, a ragged black shaft.

Dynamite’s ripped open the belly, gutted the hill
from below. He says, please be careful, you don’t
want to fall in. We walk on toes by spindly trees
until the light opens to face the stark precipice.

The mountain next door has vanished, dropped
into the planet’s bowel, an entire forest gone.
A few hawks fly around aimlessly; the wind
carries the insistent whine of motors nearby.

At the brink stands one ghost tree, black roots
sinewy, naked in mid-air, branches stiff as bone.
The mountain man studies the bark. Don’t fall, 
he advises. No one will come to save you either.

                                             --Peter Neil Carroll

First published in Written Rivers: A Journal of Eco-Poetics (Winter 2011)

This poem first appeared in "Written Rivers":