- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

VICCO, Ky. (AP) — Demonstrators bowed their heads and prayed for the land, the water and mostly for an end to the practice of removing mountaintops to extract coal.

“Let’s pray for a time when we can stop defiling the land,” said Allen Johnson, co-founder of Christians for the Mountains in West Virginia and one of about two dozen religious leaders who signed a statement Wednesday against mountaintop removal.

The outdoor prayer ceremony wrapped up a two-day tour of eastern Kentucky’s mountains, where mountaintop removal brings difficult trade-offs: It damages the environment but provides jobs for thousands of people in a region heavily reliant on coal as its economic engine.

The Rev. John Rausch, a Catholic priest from Stanton who organized the nondenominational tour, said the coal industry has created a “false dichotomy” between jobs and the environment.

When asked what he would tell miners who depend on mountaintop removal for their livelihood, Father Rausch said: ” ‘What’s good for you may not be good for the community.’ I certainly appreciate workers being in that position, but they need to begin transitioning out of that.”

The religious opposition reflects a trend of more people of faith taking stands on environmental issues. In some cases, it has united traditionally conservative evangelists with liberal conservationists.

In February, 86 evangelical pastors, college presidents and theologians signed a letter calling on Christians and the government to fight global warming.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, adopted a resolution in June denouncing environmental activism and warning that it could “become a wedge issue to divide the evangelical community.”

The religious leaders, who included people from as far away as California and Washington state, said they signed the statement opposing mountaintop removal out of an obligation to protect God’s work.

“People of faith are motivated by their belief in God, and God tells us to take care of creation,” said Chris Elisara, executive director of the Creation Care Study Program in Julian, Calif.

Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said the religious leaders were drawing on emotions more than fact.

“They’re wanting to do nothing and offer no jobs in return,” Mr. Caylor said. “I find it frustrating when people use religion to justify their position.”

He added that mountaintop removal affects less than 7 percent of Appalachia.

Brian Patton, president of James River Coal Co., which runs several surface mines and a mountaintop-removal operation, said the demonstrators were taking a “narrow view of things.”

“As a Christian, I’ve been taught to worry about saving souls as opposed to environmental issues,” said Mr. Patton, a deacon at the Calvary Baptist Church in Lexington.

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