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Country Stars Come Out Against Mountaintop Removal

Rob Perks

Posted November 12, 2009

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Nashville is "Music City", the home of country music -- but the heart and soul of this celebrated American musical genre lies a few hundred miles east in the Appalachian Mountains.  Yes indeed, Appalachia is where country music was born.  And more and more country stars are starting to wake up to the destruction facing the mountains that are the inspiration of their songs and the lifeblood of their livelihood.

I just returned from Nashville, where NRDC co-hosted an event with the Gibson Foundation (yes, those legendary guitars!) at the home of mega-manager Ken Levitan.  The purpose of this event was to raise awareness about mountaintop removal coal mining amongst the music industry and to recruit more artists to our campaign:

More than 100 people attended the event and heard NRDC's Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. tell how the Appalachians are being ravaged by the most destructive form of coal mining ever devised.  He explained how companies are blowing entire ridge tops to smithereens to get at the thin seams of coal below.  He spoke of the roughly 500 peaks leveled thus far, along with wide swaths of forests clearcut, miles of streams destroyed or polluted, and countless communities harmed by the hunger for this dirty fossil fuel.

With the future of America's oldest mountains at stake, NRDC called on country singers and musicians to come together with us and to say "enough is enough."  Who better to join the fight for these cherished mountains than country music stars?  These popular and influential messengers can use their platform to lend their voice, and help keep the 'country' in country music.

(Pictured left-right: Randy Travis, Dierks Bentley, Kid Rock, Big Kenny, James Otto, NRDC founder John Adams, Emmylou Harris, NRDC scientist Allen Hershkowitz, RFK Jr., Gloria Dumas, Ken Levitan, Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz and Gibson Guitar President Dave Berryman.)

Here's a great story about the event in The Tennessean.  We're talking about a star-studded lineup featuring: Emmylou Harris, Randy Travis, Ben Sollee, Big Kenny Alphin, Delbert McClinton, Dierks BentleyJames Otto, J.D. Souther, Matraca Berg, Jeff Hanna, Michelle Branch, Kid Rock, Patty Griffin, Michelle Branch, Rodney Crowell, and Glorianna.

NRDC is so grateful to Emmylou Harris, a long-time supporter of our organization, for helping us launch this campaign.  Other artists who joined early-on and have been crucial to building momentum include: Sheryl Crow, who unfortunately couldn't join us in Nashville this time; Kathy Mattea, who has been very visible and vocal against this reckless mining which has ravaged her native West Virginia; and Big Kenny Alphin, who visited the region with us last year to view the destruction and since then has become a tireless advocate against mountaintop removal.

As a result of this successful event, we expect to enlist many more stars to our Music Saves Mountains campaign, all of whom will be counted on to educate their fans and carry the message against mountaintop removal to people and policy-makers all over the country. 

This rogue mining may be devastating the Appalachian region but these mountains belong to all Americans -- and the damage inflicted there affects each and every one of us.  Mountaintop removal coal mining is a national shame -- a purple mountain tragedy -- and together with the country music industry we hope to generate broad public support that can spur the political will to finally put a stop to it. 

Many mountains, one voice: It is time to save the Appalachians from mountaintop removal coal mining.  Music Saves Mountains just may mark the swan song for this horrendous crime against not just nature but a crucial component of our American heritage.


The custom Gibson guitars created as a fundraising tool for this campaign feature an image of Coal River Mountain generously provided by NRDC's good friend and fabulous photographer, J Henry Fair.

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Maria GunnoeNov 12 2009 11:00 AM

Thank God someone finally realized that this is God's country not coal country.

Tayor Made's song is shameful!

I personally (from the toe of a valley fill in Boone County WV) Thank each of you for getting involved in our quest to save our land and people.

I can't wait to hear the music that this inspires!

When you love these mountains you have to be country to the core!

Thank You!

B.MNov 12 2009 01:51 PM

I guess someone didn't inform Dierks Bentley that last September he was present and participated in a concert (Crocketsville) on one of these mountains that have been removed.
Nice to see what side he is on now. Also, isn't Kid Rock (he's country??) and Hank Jr. good friends....well Hank was present at the big coal rally in VA. Guess they will not be doing anything together anymore.

Tom LewterNov 12 2009 06:49 PM

Big Kenny, Emmy Lou Harris, Kathy Mattea, Music Saves Mountains, Sheryl Crow,

This kind of stuff just torques me off. I think you individuals should be the first ones to turn off your electricity, not purchase any materials/devices made out of steel or other mined metals (no cars, bikes, or other transportation), not purchase any plastic products, gasoline or any other petroleum based products. I wonder how much electricity you use at one of your concerts. How much coal production did that use? Then at that point you could say all of this stuff and not be hypocritical about it. Believe me, you have taken advantage of it as much or more (as musicians), in most cases, than the other folks that you sell your music to.
I wonder where you people think all of the stuff you use every day comes from (buses, planes and limousines you use for transportation)? We should turn off all coal production for a couple of weeks and see if you and the general public might see things a bit differently. Folks cry when they lose their power for just a few hours. You obviously have no idea how many industries (and their products) are tied to coal production.
Don’t kid yourselves…you also are a big part of the problems we have. What are you really ready to give up and sacrifice? Easy to give someone else’s job away. You people obviously don’t know where most of your power comes from. And by the way…aren’t there quite a few folks that make their livings in coal…in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, West Virginia, etc? Did anyone bother to ask them? These folks work their butts off for you and me to have steel, heat, electricity, etc. What are you going to attack next…steel and copper mines?
You musicians could, I guess, make all of your stuff out of wooden material (heat, housing and all) and then you could then be bashed by the tree huggers for cutting down all of the trees and the EPA when you pollute too much (you would need to add separators to your wood burning stoves).
And by the way, I didn’t read about any suggestions and solutions for any of this…wonderful! Where do you all think your power is going to come from…windmills, hydrogen and solar? I wish it were that simple…I’d be right there with you. It is easy to bash…it is very difficult to fix. If you want to help, come up with real solutions as you cry about the problems.

Tom Lewter

Rob PerksNov 12 2009 07:51 PM

Let's be clear, Tom: These country stars are opposed to a specific, extreme form of strip mining (MTR), not all coal mining. They recognize that blowing the tops off America's oldest mountains is a threat to the environment, people and heritage of Appalachia.

Mountaintop removal provides roughly 5% of all coal that is mined in this country. Adding insult to injury, a significant chunk of that coal gets exported to China and other countries. So, out-of-state coal companies are leveling America's mountains to supply dirty energy to foreign nations.

As for jobs, MTR takes the miner out of mining -- explosives and mechanization require far fewer workers than traditional underground operations. So, spare me your tirade and face the truth: MTR is reckless, rogue mining that is flattening majestic mountaintops, clearcutting lush forests, wiping out wildlife, obliterating clean waterways, harming coalfield communities, killing the mountaineer culture, and steadily crushing the heart of Appalachia. I'm proud that musicians are recognizing that and helping to put a stop to it by spreading the word.

I suggest you take some time and learn the facts at

Tom LewterNov 12 2009 10:50 PM

I knew someone (many of you) was going to "spread the word". I expected to be blasted. The problem is the word is spreading everywhere against just about every type of mining effort that is going on in this nation. Period. And this doesn't apply to just mining. Also there never are any solutions! I don't have a problem shutting all mining down if there are replacement sources of some kind. Most people feel the same way. You don't like the Appalachians being leveled and polluted and others don't like what they see is the same type of thing happening in their areas across the country. So do we shut them all down? Oh and by the way the Appalachians doesn't have a monopoly on strip mining.

What I have seen is folks don't like it but they are more than happy to use and abuse the results. Again how about those solutions? And just about all mine sites could be used as the same type of example you use with the Appalations...this one only supplies 5% of a particular ore and it may or may not go to other countries.

Again, we talk about environmental issues and turn around and purchase 2-3 cars and live in what would be considered mansions in most of the rest of the world. By the way (and I show the facts), you mention China...I wonder how much of that coal that China uses is sold right back to us in the form of finshed products? It must be quite a bunch seeing how we have a huge trade deficit with them. In the meantime we close the doors to business in our country because of environmental issues. We have no right to cry "dirty energy" when we basically drive business away and then gobble up other countries exports.

It ought to be really interesting when all we have to offer the world is just our services and no products. And that is becoming more of a fact all of the time.

Trade with China : 2008 (JUST 2008!)
NOTE: All figures are in millions of U.S. dollars, and not seasonally adjusted unless otherwise specified. Month Exports Imports Balance
Jan 2008 5,556.7 26,193.0 -20,636.3
Feb 2008 5,698.1 24,095.9 -18,397.8
Mar 2008 6,294.4 22,440.2 -16,145.9
Apr 2008 5,651.2 25,951.7 -20,300.4
May 2008 6,275.7 27,634.5 -21,358.9
Jun 2008 6,188.2 27,930.6 -21,742.5
Jul 2008 6,234.6 31,247.3 -25,012.6
Aug 2008 6,201.3 31,823.7 -25,622.4
Sep 2008 5,257.6 33,078.7 -27,821.1
Oct 2008 6,083.4 34,032.4 -27,949.0
Nov 2008 5,181.0 28,265.0 -23,084.1
Dec 2008 5,110.7 25,079.5 -19,968.8
TOTAL 69,732.8 337,772.6 -268,039.8

•'TOTAL' may not add due to rounding.
•Table reflects only those months for which there was trade.
•CONTACT: Data Dissemination Branch, U.S. Census Bureau, (301) 763-2311
•SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Division, Data Dissemination Branch, Washington, D.C. 20233

And this is only China! What about the rest of the imports? I was taught that you can't complain about something until you help to come up with a solution or are willing to sacrifice to make a change. Nothing like this comes for free.

The above figures doesn't show that we are getting the short stick of resources leaving the country. And it really doesn't show much of a level of sacrifice on our part as well.

This isn't just about the is about our country as a whole. We are all in this together like it or not.

Rob PerksNov 12 2009 11:15 PM

Tom, I hear you. The fact is, our country should have heeded President Carter's clarion call on clean energy. Now, here we are 40 years later and just now looking to transition away from dirty fuels.

We have the technology -- wind, solar, geothermal -- we just need the political will. Does that mean we turn off the switch on coal overnight for windmills? No, it's not that easy. But the opportunity is now to begin that transformation.

In fact, in West Virginia Massey Energy has begun blasting Coal River Mountain, one the last intact mountain ranges in the coalfields and the highest ever elevation approved for MTR. Studies show that a 200-turbine wind farm on those ridges would provide ample clean power while preserving the mountain, and produce more permanent jobs than the mountaintop removal operation. To destroy that mountaintop is to kill the golden goose -- what a waste.

Aside from that, let me posit that every paradigm shift in history hinges on a choice made easier by relying on common sense and morality. Before the Civil War broke out, Southern apologists argued Northern abolitionists over the economic merits of slavery. They insisted that freedom for millions of slaves would mean economic ruin for the South. But the moral cause won out, damn the consequences. And it was the right thing to do.

It's time to break the bondage system that rules the coalfields today, with mining companies and their compliant politicians insisting that destroying landscapes is necessary to prop up the economy of southern Appalachia. The moral case against MTR is as strong as the economic and ecological reality of the situation. The choice is easy: end MTR once and for all.

C. M. BaileyNov 13 2009 08:02 PM

Oh, how beautiful our mountains will be with hundreds of giant windmills atop them. And talk about the loss of golden geese, what about the loss of the many species of birds that will be lost. And as for the windmills, if the internet is correct, they require electricity. I agree with another post, give up your autos, your electricity, your buses, your mansions, your concerts, your airplanes. When you make the sacrifice, let us know. Also, the fact that a picture of the results of MTR is never accurately shown appauls me. When the mountains aren't put back, they are used for roads, schools and many other businesses. It's funny that in almost all interviews, etc it is the same picture they post. Where are these black waters you talk about. I've lived in "Coal Country" my entire life and never saw these waters. Again these are practices of the past, not the future. And another thing, there seems to be a misnomer that Appalachians are ignorant and uneducated. That is the thing of the past. Don't let the "fat cat" musicians, actors, and Mr. Kennedy fool you, coal is what makes us everyday people afford electricity. Quit your belly aching and mind your own business. Quit building your mansions, you are killing trees and leaving your own HUGE carbon footprints.

Jaime S.Nov 17 2009 08:48 PM

Tom - I appreciate your comments and appreciate that you provide an alternative argument.

My concern is the hypocratic participation in this group. Several musicians pictured in the photo have received money to come and support the coal industry. Last year, Randy Travis received money from the Friends of Coal organization and came to perform. Are they writing a check for every time that they received money from this organization or were paid to come to private parties for various coal companies?

I am all for supporting a cause; particularly one that is controversial. I worry about the message being sent by musicians that support the coal industry when they receive payment but quickly turn their backs on it when given an opportunity.

Chris RobinsonNov 17 2009 09:09 PM

I would like to know who you think you are?? Who do you think buys your CD's and has helped you get to the big houses and the big farms you call home?? How would you like the coal miners to protest you concerts??? Randy you was right here in Beckley WV two years ago singing at the FRIENDS OF COAL RALLY!!! What makes you people think you are any better than the hard working poeple who mine this coal you fuss so much about??? If you dont like strip mining prove it turn off your power and do your protest in the dark!!! Most people who are protestin this is the ones that have plenty of money! I myself Need the money from my job in the coal industry to feed my family!!

d.priceNov 21 2009 08:21 PM

The people in Eastern Kentucky are not asking for your help. We mine everyday and we never ask anybody for anything.
Why should we not have good roads to travel on?
If it was not for us mining how would you get your electric?

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