CHARLESTON, W.Va.- West Virginians and their allies, including Robert Kennedy, Jr., rallied today at the headquarters of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to call for an end to mountaintop removal coal mining, starting with an end to the blasting of Coal River Mountain. Coal River Mountain, the site of a proposed wind farm, is becoming a line in the sand for those demanding an end to the mining practice.
"Coal River Mountain stands today as a symbol of the choice we have to make for our energy future," said Bo Webb of the Coal River Valley, an ex-Marine and a lead organizer of today's rally. "We can preserve our abundant forested mountains, which offer clean drinking water and enough wind potential to provide permanent jobs for our families. Or, we can allow mountaintop removal operations to blast our heritage into a pile of pulverized rock and poisoned water."
"My home and the cemetery where my husband is buried are in jeopardy from mountaintop removal coal mining. I have to be out here to protect my family," said Lorelei Scarbro, an organizer with Coal River Mountain Watch and a lifelong resident of Coal River Valley, about attending today's rally.
Two weeks ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter to the Massey Energy subsidiary that is blasting on Coal River Mountain noting with concern that the company appears to be operating without the required permit under the Clean Water Act. Those at today's rally are demanding that the W.Va. DEP join the EPA, and inspect the coal sludge dam that is just a few hundred feet from the mine site. According to Massey's own evacuation reports, a break in the coal slurry impoundment would result in certain injury or death for the nearly 1,000 residents downslope in the valley. Some area residents would have less than 15 minutes to escape a 72-foot tidal wave of
toxic coal sludge.
The tide seems to be turning on the issue of mountaintop removal coal mining as concerns grow over the health and safety impacts, the limited number of jobs the practice provides and the possibility for wind energy if mountains are left intact. Just this week, Senator Byrd of W.Va. issued a groundbreaking statement on the practice, which
reflects the changing political temperature on the issue.
"The increased use of mountaintop removal mining means that fewer miners are needed to meet company production goals," said Byrd in an opinion piece this week. He continued: "Most members of Congress, like most Americans, oppose the practice, and we may not yet fully understand the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the health of our citizens."
The attendance of national figures like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. at today's rally also reflects the growing concern behind the issue. "Using giant earthmovers and millions of tons of explosives, coal moguls have eviscerated communities, destroyed homes, and uprooted and sickened families with coal and rock dust, blasting, flooding and poisoned water, all while providing far fewer jobs than does traditional underground mining," said Kennedy. Kennedy is scheduled to return to Charleston Jan. 21, 2010, to debate Massey Energy President and CEO Don Blankenship at the University of Charleston.
It is no coincidence that today's rally is happening just as world leaders gather in Copenhagen to discuss global warming. Concern with the mining practice dovetails with a growing demand to replace fossil fuels with clean energy sources. From California to West Virginia, from the headquarters of Chevron in San Ramon to the DEP here in Charleston, communities are showing support for clean energy as the global conference begins. Those who support the wind farm on Coal River Mountain and elsewhere in the region believe that to protect the future of West Virginia, coal country can and must become clean energy country.
"If we don't start building a clean energy economy and diversifying jobs in West Virginia what will our children do for jobs in 20 years when the coal runs out?" said Scarbro. "If we can save this mountain than we can begin developing sustainable jobs and renewable energy, and we can maybe have an impact on the climate crisis that faces us all."
Coal River Mountain gained national attention after a study last year by Downstream Strategies noted that an industrial wind farm on the mountain could provide more jobs, tax revenues and electricity over the long-term than a mountaintop removal operation, which will exhaust the coal seams within 17 years. Nevertheless, Massey Energy began blasting on the mountain in mid-October.
Called the worst of the worst coal mining, mountaintop removal decapitates Appalachian peaks, denudes lush forests, and dumps debris into valley streams - destroying or damaging more than a thousand miles of mountain waterways to date.
Rainforest Action Network runs hard-hitting campaigns to break North America’s fossil fuels addiction, protect endangered forests and Indigenous rights, and stop destructive investments around the world through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action. For more information, please visit: www.ran.org