How Your Power Bill is Connected to Loving Your Neighbor


“When not in use, turn off the juice.” More than a catchy rhyme, this was a motto in the Merritt household when I was growing up that reminded us kids to turn off the lights upon leaving a room. I suspect the motto was enacted by my parents as a money saving strategy, but unbeknownst to me, it was also helping me love my neighbors.

Sixty-eight percent of electricity generated in America comes from the burning of fossil fuels, with nearly forty percent attributed from coal. The burning of coal is partly responsible for America’s spiking asthma rates, and it releases toxic mercury into surrounding rivers and lakes. Additionally, mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining, a process for extracting coal that uses powerful explosives to level mountains layer by layer, is wrecking lives through air pollution and the creation of sludge and slurry ponds.

As it turns out, your power bill is inextricably connected to loving your neighbor.

Most Americans aren’t aware of the connection, but they will be soon if Peter Illyn has anything to do with it. Illyn is founder and executive director of Restoring Eden, a Christian non-profit promoting “the biblical call to love, serve, and protect God's creation.” He and his organization have been mobilizing Christian college students over the last three years to perform health surveys throughout Appalachia, the region where MTR is most frequently practiced.

To execute this project, Illyn collaborated with Dr. Michael Hendryx, chair in the Department of Health Policy, Management, and Leadership at West Virginia University. Together, they have mobilized and trained students from leading Christian colleges such as Calvin College, Samford University, Wheaton College, and Lee University to conduct hundred of health surveys throughout West Virginia and Kentucky. Their findings provide startling information about how energy consumption effects our Appalachian neighbors.


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