An open letter to Chancellor Wrighton on coal

Harry Alper | Op-Ed Submission

Dear Chancellor Wrighton,

In light of our University’s increasing involvement with coal, I write to invite you to travel with me to Coal River, W.Va., during fall break to attend the Mountain Justice Fall Summit. There we can learn from coal town residents and coal miners’ mothers about how to address the high human cost of coal. More information on the summit is available at The example set by the positive endeavors of these Appalachian communities can inform the University’s pursuits and further our role in reducing the negative impacts of coal.

Last March, I had the privilege of participating in the weeklong Mountain Justice Spring Break in Rockwood, Tenn., near the site of the Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash spill. This past December, toxic coal ash spilled out of a dam, flowing through the town and into the Emory River. The spill released lead, chromium and other heavy metals into the water and air. Mountain Justice is an opportunity to improve the situation on the ground in Appalachia and to help folks from the region as they begin to build safer and stronger communities.

The Fall Summit in Coal River is near a town described in the “Toxic Waters” series of articles in The New York Times. About a year ago, tests confirmed that the water that town resident Jennifer Hall-Massey and her family had been drinking was contaminated with the same toxins present in the coal slurry that sits in an unlined pond just up the valley. Mrs. Hall-Massey and her neighbors must now drink water brought in by truck. Feel free to watch the brief video that appears in the left column of The New York Times article, in which Mrs. Hall-Massey describes the health problems that have recently arisen in her community.

My hope is that by attending the Fall Summit I can learn to support people in affected regions as they come together and build real solutions. They can form institutions that will protect the quality of the water they drink and the air they breathe. They can learn about the medical conditions from which they now suffer and create health clinics to foster their well-being.

If you are unable to join me at the Fall Summit, I would be eager to meet with you on my return and share my experience. We could also arrange a trip for a later date if your schedule allows.

I would like for this letter to be part of an open and ongoing conversation among all members of the University and all those involved with or affected by coal. I’m confident that by working together we can shape a clean energy future that will meet our needs both as consumers and as communities.

Harry Alper

Harry is a junior in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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