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The Last Mountain Shines a Light on Coal's Dirtiest Secret

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 24, 2011 7:20PM

2011_06_LastMountain.jpg The steel-reinforced mountains and asphalt valleys of Chicago are not exactly strangers to the current chapter of the environmental movement's struggle against Big Coal, but most of us are far more in touch with the end product than the messy origin. We need our window units humming, and maybe we'll worry about how exactly that happens right after we watch a Frontline special on the flat screen and get another ice cold beer from the fridge.

If Illinois receives almost half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants, and 30 percent of the sixteen pounds of coal burned every day for each person in the United States comes from the mountains of Appalachia, it cannot hurt for us to spend some time confronting the unpleasant parts of the big picture. We could start by checking out documentaries like The Last Mountain, Bill Haney's message from the front lines of the battle being waged between the people of Coal River Valley, West Virginia and the energy companies literally blowing up mountains to more efficiently extract their coal.

Dust from the dynamiting covers nearby towns (and the lungs of the residents) and pollutes the water supplies of millions, flooding increases, cancer rates skyrocket, and Haney has a villains dead to rights: Massey Energy, once of the biggest coal producers in the country, and the lobbyist-compromised system they have been able to exploit as readily as the environment. We're not sure if there's enough rope was given to the "pro-Coal" proponents like West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney to hang themselves in the name of balancing the documentary, or if the answer to the problem is really wind farms where the mines would once have gone, but the images of mountaintop-removal mining are as powerful as the process is shockingly destructive. Political scion and environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who lends his scratchy voice to the side of the grassroots, will be present at tonight's local premiere.

The Last Mountain screens tonight at 7 p.m. at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in attendance.