THE BLOG

Music Stars on Mountaintop Removal: Keep the 'Country' in Country Music

05/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Visit NRDCs Switchboard Blog

What do Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, Kathy Mattea and "Big" Kenny Alphin (of Big & Rich) have in common?

Sure, they're all popular country music artists.  And, yes, they all make their home in Nashville, the geographic center of that genre's recording industry.  They also love mountains -- particularly the Appalachians where country music was born.  And, together, they are leading the music industry's charge to defend America's oldest and most cherished mountains from the world's most destructive coal mining.

Mountaintop removal -- as the name suggests -- uses explosives to literally blow up ridgelines to provide easy access to thin coal seams below, with the leftover rock, rubble and mining waste dumped into valley streams below.  To date, some 500 Appalachian peaks have been flattened by this extreme strip mining, leaving behind scarred moonscapes, polluted water and shell-shocked communities.

Sheryl Crow has decried mountaintop removal as a "crime against nature", which she opposes for "destroying some of the most beautiful places in the United States, including in Tennessee where I live."

Now she and her fellow country stars have aligned to launch Music Saves Mountains, a campaign to raise awareness of the devastating impacts of mountaintop removal.  As part of this effort, Sheryl, Emmylou, Kathy and Big Kenny will be enlisting their fellow artists in the effort to help protect Appalachia's most revered natural resources.  You can check out the campaign website, MusicSavesMountains.org, to learn more about mountaintop removal, see what participating musicians are doing to protect the Appalachians, and find out what you can do to help.  As the website proclaims:

With the future of America's oldest mountains at stake, country singers and musicians are coming together to say "enough is enough." They are joining together to fight for these cherished mountains, where country music was born and which so many songs celebrate.

Go Tell it on the Mountain

I first spoke with Sheryl about mountaintop removal a couple of years ago in California.  About a year ago Emmylou hosted NRDC at her home to discuss this issue with her and several of her friends and fellow music industry colleagues.  Shortly afterwards, I sat down with Kathy Mattea and experienced her passion for this -- she understands the devastation of mountaintop removal as only a native West Virginian can.  And last summer I had the pleasure of introducing Big Kenny to this issue by touring him around the coal fields of southern West Virginia.  Here's a photo I took of him at Kayford Mountain.

"The beauty of the Appalachian Mountains has inspired countless songs in country, bluegrass, gospel and folk music.  We must do everything possible to protect them," says Big Kenny.  "This campaign was founded out of the respect musicians, and especially people from Appalachia, have for our beloved mountains.  We're calling on everyone to help keep the 'country' in country music."

Currently, Congress is considering legislation to curtail mountaintop mining.  The bi-partisan Clean Water Protection Act has about 150 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives and last week U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the Appalachia Restoration Act, which effectively would ban mountaintop removal.  Meanwhile, in Tennessee, state legislators are debating an important bill -- the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act -- which would prohibit mountaintop coal mining within 100 feet of streams and rivers and will protect mountains over 2,000 feet high in Tennessee from being leveled. 

Tennessee currently has at least four active and 13 proposed mountaintop removal sites in six counties.  Across Appalachia -- from eastern Tennessee and eastern Kentucky to southern West Virginia and western Virginia -- more that a million acres of Appalachia already have been flattened and over 1,000 miles of streams have been polluted or destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining.   

Music Saves Mountains is a great way for country singers, songwriters and musicians to voice their opposition to mountaintop removal.  That is music to my ears!  

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.