On April 25, an Environmental Justice and Mountaintop Removal Awareness discussion panel was held at Earth House, followed by the University’s first Mountaintop Removal Awareness Festival. The festival took place on Foss Hill and featured music, dancing, and discussion over current environmental issues.

Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies M.K. Dorsey and Chair of the Asian Languages and Literatures Department William Johnston served on the panel. A student group, the Climate Ambassadors, and students from Johnston’s Environmental Studies course, “Perspectives on Mountaintop Removal: Origins, Techniques, and Impacts,” assisted in the organization of the panel and the festival.

“Mountaintop removal is a form of coal mining and the focus of the event was on this destructive coal mining in Appalachia,” said Marjorie Dodson ’13, a member of the Climate Ambassadors and the College of Environment Think Tank who helped organize the panel. “Toxins from this are dumped in the valleys and water supply.”

Dodson hoped that the panel would educate other students on the issue of mountaintop removal processes. She believes that more students would care about this issue if other students took the initiative to raise awareness.

Mountaintop removal is a destructive process that involves explosives and the massive movement of debris by large machinery. Corporations may benefit financially from mountaintop removal, but the process greatly affects the residents and climate of these mountainous regions. For this reason, many arguments against the practice of mountaintop removal have revolved around environmental justice issues.

During the panel, Dorsey discussed the implications of these environmental justice issues. One student, who is from a region where mountaintop removal is practiced, recounted how the process affected his hometown, including contaminating the water supply.

“Issues such as fracking and other [environmental issues] are important to learn about, and hopefully through events like these people will want to be more involved,” Dodson said.

Greg Shaheen ’13, Adin Vaewsorn ’15, Pierre Gerard ’15, and other students helped organize the festival. All three students noted that Johnston’s class and a class trip to a site in West Virginia inspired them to organize a non-traditional event to raise awareness. Bicycle generators powered the music at the festival, and students also held a ceremony that involved taking apart a symbolic mountain composed of stones.

“We hoped that by simultaneously appreciating the celebratory vibes that Foss gives us and recognizing our role in the environmental injustice of Appalachia as consumers of electricity, new connections could be made,” Shaheen said.

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