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Top Climate Scientist James Hansen, Actress Daryl Hannah and Former Representative Ken Hechler join Appalachian Residents in Peaceful Protest to Stop Mountaintop Removal

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

CONTACTS:

Bo Webb, 304-854-7104

Nell Greenberg, 510-847-9777

Hi-res photos and video available

COAL RIVER VALLEY, W. VA—Today, leading climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, actress Daryl Hannah, former Representative Ken Hechler, Michael Brune, the executive director of Rainforest Action Network, and Goldman Prize winners Judy Bonds and Maria Gunnoe, joined dozens of Coal River Valley residents and allies in a protest to stop mountaintop removal. They will be risking arrest by crossing onto the property of leading mountaintop removal coal mining company, Massey Energy—purposely trespassing to protest the destruction of mountains immediately above the Coal River Valley community. This part of a string of increasingly dramatic protests on mountaintop removal and comes after the Obama Administration’s announcement that the EPA will reform, but not abolish, the aggressive strip mining practice.

“I am not a politician; I am a scientist and a citizen,” said Dr. James Hansen. “Politicians may have to advocate for halfway measures if they choose. But it is our responsibility to make sure our representatives feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not what is politically expedient. Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, should be abolished.”

Two weeks ago, the Obama Administration announced steps to end the fast tracking of certain mountaintop removal coal mine permits and to add tougher enforcement in Appalachia. However, it remains unclear what, if any, improvements this will have on-the-ground in Appalachia or elsewhere. Without a significant change in policy, mining companies will continue to destroy historic mountain ranges and bury community’s drinking water in toxic waste.

“Every day, mountaintop removal mines use more explosive power than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima,” said Bo Webb, an organizer of today’s protest and a Coal River Valley Resident. “West Virginians oppose mountaintop removal in our communities. This is not our traditional way of life, and we do not support the destruction of our land or our communities.”

Coal companies who engage in mountaintop removal mining are clear-cutting thousands of acres of some of the world's most biologically diverse forests. They're burying biologically crucial headwaters streams with blasting debris, releasing toxic levels of heavy metals into the remaining streams and groundwater and poisoning essential drinking water. According to the EPA, this destructive practice has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of forest by 2020.

“We are all complicit in mountaintop removal whenever we turn on our lights, so we are all responsible for ending it. Mountaintop removal, the world's worst strip-mining, is unacceptable. Period.” said Michael Brune, executive director of Rainforest Action Network, a lead supporter of the action today. “This is not a practice that needs to be reformed. It is a practice that needs to be abolished. By sacrificing the Appalachian Mountains for the country's coal addiction, we undermine future investments in 21st century clean energy solutions that will protect our planet, produce more jobs and preserve our natural resources.”

Mountaintop removal coal provides less than eight percent of all coal produced in the United States, and could be replaced with energy efficiency initiatives or renewable energy sources, instead of permitting massive environmental destruction of historic mountain ranges and essential drinking water for a relatively tiny amount of coal.

Recent studies have shown that the Appalachia Mountains could support commercial scale wind energy facilities, which would bring long-term, sustainable jobs to the region – but only if the mountains are left standing. In West Virginia, jobs from mining account for just 3.3% employment in the Mountain State – that is less than 20,000 jobs total. A recent University of Massachusetts study found investing in clean energy projects like wind power and mass transit creates three to four times more jobs than the same expenditure on the coal industry. The wind power sector has grown to employ more Americans than coal mining as demand for clean energy has jumped over the past decade.

 

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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

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