How Many Mountains Have You Destroyed?

Coal-burning power plant.If you’re green-minded, it’s easy to hate coal. What’s not as easy, though, is discovering that — as light an environmental footprint as you try to leave every day — you’re probably part of the coal problem.

After all, coal might be dirty, deadly and environmentally destructive, but it also has a purpose, one of which is to fuel the power plants that generate our electricity. So unless you’re living and working completely off the grid, you too are a cog in the dirty coal machine. Ignorance is no excuse.

And now there’s no excuse for even claming ignorance: A Website created by the environmental group Appalachian Voices and Mathew Gross, Howard Dean’s former director of Internet communications, lets you find out exactly how you’re connected to the world of coal. It’s both fascinating and disturbing.

Just type in your Zip code and click “Show My Connection,” and you’ll get a detailed map showing the locations of coal-fired power plants in your area. You’ll also be able to find out whether your local plants are direct users of coal mined through mountaintop removal, or whether they’re indirectly connected by buying coal from companies that operate mountaintop removal mines elsewhere.

Once it’s left you feeling appropriately guilty, the site offers several ways in which to redeem yourself. There’s information about House Resolution 2169, the Clean Water Protection Act that would help protect the health and welfare of people who live in Appalachia’s coal regions, along with a list of which U.S. representatives have so far lent their support to the bill. You’ll also find links to help you email your House representatives — either to thank them for backing the bill, or to ask them to come on board.

The site also offers plenty more: email forms to recommend the site to friends and family; a “Go Tell it on the Mountain” page to offer your own prayers and prayer requests “for the people and mountains of Appalachia”; comments from Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Wendell Berry and others about the high cost of coal; an online National Memorial for the Mountains that uses Google Earth’s mapping software to illustrate how mountaintop removal mining has affected individual communities and regions; and videos, photos and more.

Oh, and if you want to help a bit more and still have a few holiday gifts left to buy, you’ll also find a link to the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy’s online store, which offers “I Love Mountains” t-shirts, bumper stickers, books, hats and more.

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