Maria Gunnoe: Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Stops Here, At The Last Mountain

Our guest blogger is Maria Gunnoe, of Bob White, WV. The documentary film The Last Mountain opens in New York City and Washington, D.C. this Friday.

The fight to end mountaintop removal coal mining has become a personal one for everyone here because all that makes up who we are and who our children will become is at risk of permanent elimination. I have seen over the past 42 years what coal has done for and to our people. There have been many men and women from our communities who have been broken by the coal industry and left to wilt away as if their lives never mattered.

Neither the coal industry nor our politicians have kept their promises of prosperity to the people. The people in these mountains are being exploited for the coal. I have seen all of the prosperity leave these Appalachian communities on coal trucks and coal trains and what we have to show for it is polluted water in our wells and streams, depopulated communities and sick people with inadequate health care.

Now as a final insult, coal companies are blowing up the mountains that overlook the communities that our forefathers built since history here began. I am a Daughter of the American Revolution as are most of my neighbors. In our mountains we have the ones dear to us who have, for hundreds of years, laid at rest in the same daylight and the same evening sun. These are men and women that have died in the world wars, but the area around these resting places has been blown up, leaving these cemeteries inaccessible islands in the sky.


Coal does not define who we are! Our history began in these mountains long before coal was discovered. Our family settled here during the forced removal of the Cherokee. They followed the rivers to their headwaters. They settled here because of the abundance of food and the ability to survive off of this land. Throughout the rise and fall of the coal industry the people here sustained themselves from these mountains. This very activity of survival is what created the culture that I was brought up knowing.

Today our mountain culture is under attack. The mountains and even our roads are being gated off and we are kept out. These once pristine places are made unsafe and their water polluted. Clean water is a rarity in our homes and streams as this same water is what the coal companies use to process their coal and dispose of the waste.

I recognize that we are at a crossroads in our energy choices. We have to ask ourselves, “Can we continue to blow up mountains and poison water to produce energy?” — recognizing that we are ALL downstream. Appalachia’s headwaters run through the Mississippi and provide drinking water for millions of people.

Knowing about what’s happening obligates people to do something about it, and this is why I participated in the documentary “The Last Mountain.” If you know the practice of mountaintop removal is taking place, you can’t help but be compelled to stop it. Awareness is one of the most important tools that we have in stopping the destruction of our communities. Everyone will walk away from this film with ideas of what they can do to demand better for their children. For me, I dream of clean water, wind turbines and jobs forever!