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xi Introduction Environmental Justice and Appalachia michele morrone and geoffrey l. buckley Now all of the issues of environmental racism and environmental justice don’t just deal with people of color. We are just as much concerned with inequities in Appalachia, for example, where the whites are basically dumped on because of lack of economic and political clout and lack of having a voice to say“no” and that’s environmental injustice. Robert Bullard O n D e c e m b e r 2 2 , 2 0 0 8 , a n e a r t h e n d a m a t a w a s t e retention pond in Roane County, Tennessee, broke, sending more than 1.1 billion gallons of coal fly ash slurry into nearby streams, flooding hundreds of acres, and damaging numerous homes and other structures.The slurry—a by-product of the burning of coal—contained high levels of heavy metals and other harmful contaminants. The spill, which occurred at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant, was reported to be the largest of its type in U.S. history.1 Regrettably, for residents of rural Appalachia, it was not an unusual event. Just eight years earlier,on October 11,2000,a coal sludge impoundment in Martin County, Kentucky, burst through an underground mine, discharging an estimated 306 million gallons of sludge into two tributaries of theTug Fork Michele Morrone and Geoffrey L. Buckley xii River.The collapse of this impoundment,owned and operated by a subsidiary of the Massey Energy Company, polluted hundreds of miles of streams and fouled the drinking water of more than twenty-seven thousand residents. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the spill was thirty times larger than the eleven-million-gallon oil slick produced by the Exxon Valdez accident, in 1989, and one of the worst environmental disasters to take place east of the Mississippi River.2 Then there was Buffalo Creek. Early on a Saturday morning in 1972, just as local residents were getting up to make breakfast, a series of coal slurry impoundment dams belonging to the Pittston Coal Company failed, overwhelming more than a dozen mining communities situated in a narrow valley in Logan County, West Virginia. The torrent of coal wastewater unleashed on these unsuspecting communities killed 125 people, injured hundreds more, and left many thousands homeless. Decades later, survivors still suffer from nightmares and other traumas associated with the tragedy.3 Today, there are hundreds of waste impoundments of various types, both large and small, scattered across the Appalachian region. For every major incident that has taken place over the past four decades, dozens of minor ones have occurred but have not been reported. Some of these are small spills that degrade local streams; others are underground leaks that taint drinking water supplies. For residents of Appalachia’s coalfields, it is the price they pay for living in an“energy sacrifice zone.”4 Unfortunately, waste impoundments are not the only environmental “disamenities” Appalachian residents must tolerate. Other undesirable land uses, including chemical factories, waste treatment facilities, and landfills pose health and safety risks as well. With regard to the latter, author Elizabeth Royte points out that as of 2002, Pennsylvania—the most populous state in the Appalachian region—was importing “10 million tons of waste per year from neighboring states, more than any other state in the union.”5 Air pollution from dozens of coal-fired power plants and the social and environmental consequences of the mining process itself only add insult to injury. While giant corporations, utilities, and regulatory agencies deserve much of the blame for the current state of the environment, they are not solely responsible for the crisis. Though we are loathe to admit it, it is our collective “pursuit of quick and easy profit and the insatiable demand for cheap energy” that create the conditions that make another spill—like the ones that occurred in Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia—almost inevitable.6 Likewise , our desire for low-cost goods all but assures a future in which more Introduction: Environmental Justice and Appalachia xiii peaks are lost to mountaintop removal, more children are exposed to harmful chemicals and tainted water supplies, more species are pushed to the brink of extinction, and more communities disappear from the map. As long as those of us who live far away from these“landscapes of production ” are still able to enjoy the benefits of an inexpensive and uninterrupted...


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