Robert Kennedy, Jr. calls for a stop to the blasting of Coal River Mountain and protection of nation’s clean energy resources, on first day of global climate talks in Copenhagen
Why would 300 people stand in the bitter cold for more than two hours on a Monday afternoon? Well, in Charleston today, we braved the elements for a rally at the state Department of Environmental Protection to save Coal River Mountain. Coal River Mountain, the site of a proposed wind farm if blasting can be halted, has become a line in the sand in the fight against mountaintop removal coal mining.
The speakers and musicians kept everyone in good cheer. We knew before we got there that coal workers would be arriving in vans, apparently getting a day off to stand outside, wave flags and occasionally make some noise. And we weren’t surprised that there seemed to be a lot of coal trucks on the road leaning on their horns. When Stephanie Pistello from Appalachian Voices shouted “Honk if you love mountains” and the coal trucks blasted we took it to be an enthusiastic response!
We listened to a couple of dozen inspirational speakers, many of whom were local people who have seen the damage of mountaintop removal coal mining firsthand. They talked about why it was so important to them to save Coal River Mountain, their communities and our country from the many problems associated with mountaintop removal and our addiction to coal.
“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,” added Lorelei Scarbro, an organizer with Coal River Mountain Watch and a lifelong resident of Coal River Valley. She’s not against coal, but she is against the mountaintop removal mining practice that is poisoning her water and destroying her heritage.
We were joined at the rally by Robert Kennedy, Jr. Kennedy reminded us of his father’s commitment to fighting poverty in Appalachia. He also talked about the true cost of coal from cradle to grave. Mountaintop removal coal mining is destroying Appalachia, but it is also destroying the climate when that coal is burned.
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. 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 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 then we can begin developing sustainable jobs and renewable energy, and we can maybe have an impact on the climate crisis that faces us all.”
With the EPA starting to look more closely at permit requests and even West Virginia’s Senator Byrd saying the state needs to move beyond mountaintop removal, it’s time for the state Department of Environmental Protection to do its part and stop the blasting on Coal River Mountain once and for all.