Water takes the path of least resistance and so did the corporations that sought to mine, extract, and frack every dollar out of the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Some of the oldest and most biodiverse mountains on the continent contain buried in them the history of our planet. Three hundred and ten million years ago, swamps covered the region that is now Appalachia. These swamps became vast stores of carbon deep in the mountains that hold up ancient forests. The path of least resistance to the “black gold” coal seams of Appalachia has been to pulverize the forest and the mountains through strip and mountaintop removal mining.
According to Jack Spadaro (a mining engineer of 40 years and the former director of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy), several government studies from the EPA, the Corps of Engineers, and state governments have all found a link between flooding and the huge surface mines that traverse the landscape of Eastern Kentucky.
On July 27, 2022 when an extreme rain event hit the scarred mountains of Eastern Kentucky, destructive mining practices had left many of the mountains with no resistance to the deluge of water. Without trees and vegetation to buffer the rain and without soil to soak it up, the water headed down towards the towns, the hollers, and the people below at a rate that saw river levels rise by 25 feet in 24 hours. Main streets of central Appalachian towns turned into raging rivers.
This choice to extract every fossil fuel dollar as cheaply and quickly as possible has an immeasurable true cost that has been paid for by the people of Eastern Kentucky. During the disastrous floods, at the intersection of a climate disaster and reckless corporate extraction, the people of Eastern Kentucky paid the true cost with 43 lives, 9,000 homes, and $450 to $950 million dollars in damage. None of these numbers reflect the incalculable cost of the continued traumatization and loss of hope they continue to face.
Eastern Kentucky is truly ground zero for the cycle of consequences brought on by the fossil fuel industry and climate change. But it is also the beating heart of Appalachia, and its mountains, rivers, and ancient forests continue to heal us as we work to heal the damaged land.
Sierrans for Eastern Kentucky
“It’s neighbors helping neighbors in a community helping out. But at the same time we only have so many resources and volunteers and we eventually hit a point where we were very exhausted and we ran out of volunteers... It just speaks to the need of institutions with greater resources, money, and manpower to help during times like this.”
As we arrive at the one-year anniversary of the devastating 2022 floods, many of our fellow Kentuckians are still dealing with the physical, emotional, and financial aftermath of the traumatic events. Some families are still living in temporary housing. Kentucky Sierrans have wondered how we can come together to best support those who have lost everything. At the Chapter, we are working with our Eastern Kentucky Organizer to create opportunities for volunteering in fall 2023.
There are two main areas where we feel Sierra Club volunteers can make the biggest impact. First, there is administrative support needed as people who have lost homes complete FEMA assistance forms. Second, there is still a large amount of clean-up left to do, including mucking out houses and other buildings and preparing them for FEMA assessment. We want to make sure that our work has an impact, so we will be offering training for volunteers in both areas before showing up in Eastern Kentucky to work. Through the skilled and experienced organizing of our Sierra Club staff, we will put our people-power to best use.
In the weeks, months, and years to come, there will be opportunities to advocate for climate resilient communities in Eastern Kentucky as part of our campaign for a Just Transition in the region, but these are some of the most pressing needs. If you are interested in participating in the above opportunities, please fill out this form so that we may contact you to see how we can put your skills to work.