Climate Hero Lorelei Scarbro

An Appalachian grandmother says no to coal, yes to wind power.

Coal mining has devastated activist Lorelei Scarbro’s lifelong home in Rock Creek, West Virginia. But she sees a new hope for her community in wind power. For years, Scarbro operated a small craft store in a home her husband built on 10 acres of land bordering Coal River Mountain. But in 2006, Massey Energy sought permits for a 6,600-acre mountaintop removal mining project, which would destroy the last remaining mountain in the Coal River Valley, prompting her to take action.

Scarbro and other local activists joined with wind-assessment company WindLogics and advocates from the group Appalachian Voices to propose a 328-megawatt wind farm on the mountain as an alternative to surface mining. A wind farm could provide enough energy to power 150,000 homes in the region, along with sustained tax revenue for the county and more than 200 local jobs. But the wind proposal has thus far been ignored by state officials beholden to the coal industry, who sided with Massey and granted the permits to move forward on blasting. Massey began mining on a portion of the mountain in late October, though additional permits are still needed to continue in other areas of the mountain.

Scarbro and other local activists are now taking their case to the federal government, appealing to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Surface Mining to intervene. They are holding sit-ins at agency headquarters in an ongoing campaign to push officials to choose between the energy of the past and a renewable future for Coal River.

How does Coal River Mountain fit in the bigger picture of mountaintop removal?

What they want to do on this mountain is what they've done to over 500 other mountains, and that's basically turn it into a moonscape, where no living, breathing thing can exist. They're raping Appalachia. They're destroying everything in their path, including the people who actually live here. The coal industry likes to pretend that there are no people who live around these mountains and what they're doing really doesn't affect anybody. But there are thousands of people throughout Appalachia who are suffering from the ravages of the coal industry and the destruction that mountaintop removal brings with it. Throughout Appalachia, we are the people who are paying the true price of coal.

How did you first get involved in the fight for this mountain?

I was a stay-at-home mom for 26 years, and I was perfectly happy staying at home. I also had a craft shop. My husband was an underground, union coal miner for 35 years, and he died of black lung. When my last child was turning 18 and getting ready to move out, Massey Energy applied for the permit right behind my house, where my property borders Coal River Mountain. I would have been perfectly content working in my little shop here and going on with my life. But my story is like thousands of other people’s stories throughout Appalachia; the coal company brought this to our door. We don't live where they mine coal. They mine coal where we live.

Once they made the decision and went public with their plans to blow the top off the mountain behind my house, I felt that I really had to step forward and become more vocal about what was going on. This is not something I envisioned myself doing, but it's something that I feel I can't stop now. I sat here working in my shop for quite a few years, knowing that there were things going on around me, and I made a conscious decision not to become more aware of them. But once you know, you can't not know any more. The more I got involved, the more I knew about the injustice and the oppression and all of the things that go along with the heavy hand of the coal industry in the state of West Virginia.

How has your community responded to the idea of creating a wind power project?

In the coal fields, people have been oppressed for generations by the coal industry. We live in a mono-economy. We don't have any choices. With this wind project, we have begun to see a glimmer of hope. There are people here who are actually beginning to hope that things won't be the way they've always been. This mountain stands as a symbol of hope, not just for the Coal River Valley, but throughout Appalachia for communities that have been devastated by mountaintop removal, who have had their mountains blown up, their communities depopulated, their water poisoned. If we can save this one mountain, that certainly gives other areas and other communities hope that we can actually start rebuilding Appalachia. We can start creating green jobs and renewable energy.


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