Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

Celebrating Appalachia

Celebrating Appalachia

Beth Collins, Director, Appalachian Institute at WJU

Too many times when the term “Appalac

Local community members and the WJU campus Celebrate Appalachia!

Local community members and the WJU campus Celebrate Appalachia!

hia” is used, a negative, almost sympathetic thought, is conjured up. At the Appalachian Institute, while we recognize challenges that need to be addressed such as health care, environmental exploitation, generational poverty, and access to quality rural education, we also stand firm in our belief that this region is one to be celebrated, even bragged about. For this reason, we recently held our annual Celebrate Appalachia event on the campus of Wheeling Jesuit University.

We kicked off the week of events by getting the campus involved in our new community vegetable garden. Over 40 people shoveled, planted, and began to grow the seeds of community and healthy living. Later that night, campus and community members celebrated some of our greatest Appalachian assets—food and music! An Appalachian feast complete with ramps, fried green tomatoes, venison stew, chicken and dumplings, and apple stack cakes were served up. Along with the dinner came some great music from a local bluegrass band and a quilting workshop.

Later in the week, Appalachia’s long history with the labor movement was highlighted by local musician and WJU employee, Tom Breiding. Breiding’s folk music told the story of the earliest labor protests, the role of WV in the start of a nationwide labor movement, and the current struggles for union coal miners.

Rooted in Scottish, Irish, and Native American influence, Appalachian folk tales reflect history and fantasy. During the week of events, local storyteller, Judi Tarowsky, performed her collection of ghost stories for local community children during our Appalachian Story Hour.

The Appalachian Pastoral Letters, specifically the original 1975 This Land is Home to Me, highlight the beauty and challenges of the region. The letters were a catalyst for organizations like the Appalachian Institute to be formed. Several philosophy and theology classes learned the impact the letters have had on the region and the “dream of the mountains’ struggles” that we still encounter today through a personal account from Fr. Brian O’Donnell, SJ and Fr. Jim O’Brien, SJ.

A key feature of the week was to not only emphasize the splendor of the region, but also modern challenges that the region is facing. The topic of natural gas drilling is one that’s literally taken over regional news. Many of the news reports and academic journals focus on the environmental costs versus the economic benefits.  Brian Cohen, lead photographer for the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project, introduced a different category into the conversation—the community impact. Through an unbiased lens, the team wove together a stunning, and sometimes tragic, story of families that are succeeding and families that are forgotten. Several community groups, students, and faculty attended the evening presentation.

To end the week of events, Fr. Brian O’Donnell, SJ led a lunch discussion with employees on green theology and Appalachia. Using excerpts from At Home in the Web of Life and the model of the Franciscans, a clear question arose—do we have a vocabulary yet in terms of the dignity of nature to effectively argue the pros and cons of a particular intervention into ecosystems? As a Jesuit university, this burden of creating such a vocabulary and shift in mindset is particularly significant.

Here at the Institute we believe that praising a region is just as important as advocating for its struggles. The two must go hand in hand if empowerment is to happen. As Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ said during convocation at WJU this year, “Without kinship there is no peace. Without kinship there is no justice.” Delighting in our history, our culture, our kinship as Appalachians is the foundation for advocacy and change.

Immersed in Coal Country: University of San Francisco

By Allison Schaub, University of San Francisco

A small group of University of San Francisco students myself included and staff had the unique opportunity to visit Appalachia, an area rich in culture, beautiful landscapes and a shiny black rock called coal. We went on a weeklong trip to West Virginia through the USF Ministry Arrupe Immersion Program in order to gain a deeper understanding of the impact the coal industry has had on the region’s people and environment. We traveled across the state meeting with non-profits such as Coal River Mountain Watch who are working towards ending the state’s dependency on coal, a natural gas company called Chesapeake Energy, The West Virginia Coal Association and then ended the trip with a powerful visit to Kayford Mountain. Seeing a mountain and the surrounding ecosystems completely destroyed from mining and hearing the story of Larry Gibson, who calls the mountain his home, was a poignant culmination of our immersion.

Coal has been the biggest source of US energy for hundreds of years, but the way of obtaining it has changed drastically. Coal companies now use a type of mining called Mountain Top Removal. The tops of mountains are blasted off using explosives, leaving the coal seams exposed in order to be mined. While this type of mining is safer for the miners in comparison to the traditional underground method, the environment and people living in the area are being adversely affected and the industry has become more mechanized, therefore providing fewer jobs to the people of West Virginia. The blasted mountain or “overburden” are filling valleys, causing massive flooding across the state and forcing people to leave their homes. Those that aren’t forced to leave the areas that coal companies have moved into are exposed to an array of health risks, such as cancer and birth defects.

A message we continued to hear throughout the trip was that there is a strong love-hate relationship when it comes to the coal industry and the people of Appalachia. The state of West Virginia is stuck in a cycle of poverty because of the lack of job opportunities there. The United States is dependent on cheap energy and West Virginia is dependent on the coal industry. It is a complicated issue and we feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to obtain a deeper understanding of the energy problems our country is facing by connecting to people who have different views on the issue. It is imperative that we all need to be more knowledgeable about the effects of our energy consumption and take responsibility in making changes to create a future that doesn’t require the sacrifice of our environment and the people that live in it in order to turn the lights on.

Note from the Appalachian Institute: To learn more about the cycle of poverty in West Virginia and how people are breaking out of it, see this PBS Frontline article:  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/countryboys/readings/duncan.html

West Virginia the Rich: Loyola University of Maryland

Since I’ve been back from our trip to West Virginia, I’ve been consumed with the question of what it means to be rich. On on our immersion trip, West Virginia was described many times as being the “richest and poorest state in the country”. This didn’t begin to make sense to me until I got home.

We learned that West Virginia is the greatest producer of coal energy, only second to Wyoming. Ninety-seven percent of its energy comes from coal, as well as the majority of the country receives energy sources from this state. Our nation would not be able to function, as it does today, without the resources extracted from Appalachia. In the same breath, West Virginia’s unemployment is consistently rising due to a great deal of mechanization. The divided counties are united when it comes to concern of growing poverty and unemployment and ultimate stability of their futures.


In this sense, yes, West Virginia can be seen as being both rich and poor. While discerning about my time spent and experiences of the past week, I’ve concluded that West Virginia is richer in so many other ways than the rest of the country is lacking.

Although this may be bold, I will go out on a ledge to say that West Virginia is home to the nicest people in the nation. These wonderful people not only invited us into their centers, seminars, and service sites, but also into their hearts. They answered every one of our typically blunt, curious, and personal questions about home, work, and their beliefs of energy sources were impacting their way of life, with educated and passionate responses. While usually being so rushed for time, our conversations were relaxed, engaged, and thoughtful. I learned what it to be joyful to live in homes that were filled with family relationships, tradition, and culture, rather than computers and televisions. The beautiful mountains that guarded their homes, as well as, the hollers that separated them, were as important to the West Virginians as the air we breathe.


We cannot begin to understand until we immerse ourselves in what we do not know. This vulnerability forced us to listen which in turn brought us understanding. The stories of both the county people and the big energy companies, were enlightening and inspiring because we now can share it with all of you. After one week, I am just beginning to see how much West Virginia has to offer. In the simplest terms, I unknowingly left a piece of my heart in those hollers.

By Kelley Dolan, Loyola University of Maryland