Peckinpaugh Pursues Eco-Activism

by Alex Kees
Columnist

Although she is a Transylvania student living in Lexington, Ky., sophomore Julia Peckinpaugh chooses instead to spend much of her time in the mountains.

Sophomore Julia Peckinpaugh participates in a 2009 TERRA protest of Chase bank's support of mountain top removal.

A member of the Transylvania Environmental Rights and Responsibilities Alliance (TERRA), Peckinpaugh first became aware of the effects of mountain top removal (MTR) when she, as a high school student, took a course in environmental science. That year, her school’s soccer coach made an appearance to lecture the class on the devastating effects of MTR, strip mining, deep mining and other forms of coal mining. While this conversation developed her concern towards the issue, Peckinpaugh initially considered it one of many issues “added to the pile of stuff that needs to be fixed.”

It was not until midway through her first year at Transylvania that Peckinpaugh’s concern grew into activism. After being introduced to activists such as Larry Gibson and Terri Blanton, Peckinpaugh became involved with Mountain Justice and the Sierra Club, two anti-MTR organizations. Through this involvement she was not only educated on the coal industry’s negative effects on streams and mountains, but she also became aware of how MTR affects Kentucky’s communities and the people who live within them. After meeting inhabitants of Eastern Kentucky, Peckinpaugh learned that the mining was causing both illness and financial devastation for community members. However, her largest influence in her decision to turn to activism occurred when Peckinpaugh discovered that coal-mining companies had affected members of her own family.

“It hit home,” Peckinpaugh said. “People think, ‘That’s not happening to me, so it’s not something I need to fix.’ But it’s happening to people you know.”

Peckinpaugh discovered that the best way a student could impact the issue of MTR was to educate those around her and follow up that education with action. Over the past year and a half, she has voiced her opinions at several banks and places of business that support mountain top removal, lobbied to committee members in Frankfort to push environmentally friendly bills, and participated in “tabling” – sitting in a public location and educating passers-by about MTR.

“Because Kentucky is 50-50 anti-coal and pro-coal, it’s difficult,” stated Peckinpaugh. “If you know anything about (mountain top removal), you have a strong opinion on it.”

As a Transy student, Peckinpaugh has been highly active in TERRA, the resident environmental group on campus. While TERRA does not have a specific focus, the group has recently become very passionate about the issues surrounding MTR. The group has participated in the past two Power Shift conferences, and Peckinpaugh’s position as a national conference member for the Student Environmental Action Coalition will allow TERRA to possibly play a large role in organizing next year’s Power Shift.

Peckinpaugh’s concern and passion towards the issue of mountain top removal have encouraged her to actively pursue justice for people and communities affected by coal mining. With two years left at Transylvania, she looks forward to seeing the campus take steps towards supporting environmental issues.

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