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3 one The Theoretical Roots and Sociology of Environmental Justice in Appalachia stephen j. scanlan A r o m a n t i c v i e w o f App a l a c h i a m o s t l i k e l y conjures up images of rolling and forested foothills that give rise to the ancient mountains that form the backbone of the region.One might think about abundant wildlife, spring wildflowers, fall foliage, and numerous rivers and streams that crisscross the landscape, providing life, scenic beauty, and opportunities for exploration. It is a land prized for its ruggedness and isolation, a region where in many places it seems as if time has stood still. In getting lost in its wonders, one may seem far removed from the sights, sounds, and fast pace of modernity and all that city life and technology bring. This is the Appalachia that many have called home and is the root of their rich cultural heritage.This is the Appalachia of magnificence and splendor that has a priceless intrinsic value. From an environmental perspective, however, romantic images are only that. Although its beauty is abundant and its landscape offers an escape to the natural world, Appalachia is anything but far removed from the sights, sounds, and fast pace of modernity. In fact, with regard to how important Appalachia is to the U.S. economy, the region is not isolated at all but intimately connected. Thus, as Joyce Barry notes, seemingly geographic isolation in Appalachia does not equate to being disconnected.1 In fact, its geography and natural resources have fueled modernity and made economic development Stephen J. Scanlan 4 possible in the United States. Timber from Appalachian forests produced the charcoal that stoked the iron ore furnaces central to the country’s early industrial growth. Coal from its mountains has heated and provided electricity for millions of people and powered the nation’s factories. Stone from its quarries and clay from its hillsides have paved the country’s highways and streets and provided bricks that built cities and homes. Appalachian people have sometimes given their lives to stoke the fires of the nation’s economy—often with only minimal reward for their effort and risk. ItisclearAppalachia’sroleinAmericanhistoryhasaltereditsromanticlandscape . Mountaintops are removed and hillsides stripped for the resources that lie on and beneath their surface. The air and water becomes polluted, wetlands are filled and degraded, and biodiversity is threatened by resource extraction, industrialization,and urbanization.The landscape gives way to smokestacks,oil wells, and gas line rights-of-way and is altered by dams and development. Environmental Justice, Resource Extraction, and Facility Siting Environmental justice as a social issue has emerged out of a social movement that many believed was not addressing the needs of people of color, the poor, or the working class.2 Environmental concerns were seen as too ecocentric and environmentalists were criticized for not paying enough attention to the cultural, economic, political, and societal concerns linked to environmental degradation. There was general agreement that the planet was indeed in peril, but with strictly ecological concerns come a need to understand the human causes and consequences of environmental harm. Environmental justice makes environmental concerns more anthropocentric by bringing human elements more fully into the discussion.3 The result of integrating humanity with the environment has led anthropologists, geographers, historians, political scientists, and sociologists to enter the conversation with their colleagues in the environmental and natural sciences. The environment does not exist independent of human activity and the most important consideration for environmental justice is the distribution of environmental harms.4 These harms arise from decisions that are intertwined with politics and economics and result in the detrimental impacts of resource extraction in particular. Whether it is coal, natural gas, oil, or timber, their extraction alters natural ecosystems and the lives of individuals living in the proximity of such operations. Hazards come in the form of water pollution fromacidminedrainage,flashfloodsfrompillagedhillsidesandmountaintops, The Theoretical Roots and Sociology of Environmental Justice in Appalachia 5 noise, and the generation and disposal of waste from such processes. Harms and environmental injustices also come from locating potentially dangerous facilities and disposing of hazardous and toxic wastes. Facility siting increases vulnerability to industrial accidents, chemical discharges, spills, and other disasters . In addition, increased exposure to polluted air and water could ultimately result in health disparities in the form of higher than average rates of asthma, birth defects, and cancers. Environmental problems and potential related health...


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