Early Thursday morning, local climate activists dropped a banner reading “Save Coal River Mtn.” from the 18th Street overpass above the Vine Street Expressway. The banner contrasted images of a wind farm and a bulldozer; the bottom read, “Coal Is Over.”
Massey Energy Company, one of the largest coal producers in the country, began blasting at Coal River Mountain last Friday, in Coal River, West Virginia. Last year the state issued permits to conduct mountain top removal on the site, despite protest by local residents. Witnesses saw blasts and smoke on Friday near the Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment.
Slurry is the by-product of coal washing and processing and contains high levels of toxic heavy metals. The Brushy Fork impoundment, the largest slurry dam in Appalachia, has the capacity to hold 8.2 billion gallons. Critics of mountaintop removal argue that an estimated 1,000 lives are at risk if the dam at Brushy Fork were to fail. Last December, a containment pond in Kingston, Tennessee burst, flooding the area with over one billion gallons of coal ash sludge, producing the largest environmental disaster in United States history.
“As world leaders are looking for solutions to climate change and economic crisis, we are presented with an incredible opportunity to develop green, sustainable technologies,” said one activist, who asked to be identified only as Hannah. “Coal is a fuel of the past. We need to be looking to long term, sustainable solutions such as wind and solar for our energy needs.”
For the last two years, local residents have campaigned for a commercial-scale wind farm on Coal River Mountain. The Coal River Wind campaign has asked West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to rescind the mining permits for Coal River Mountain. So far, Governor Manchin has denied the group’s request. A wind resources assessment and economic study commissioned by Coal River Mountain Watch in 2008 revealed that Coal River Mountain has enough wind potential to provide electricity for over 85,000 homes and would create more jobs over the expected life of the turbines than the proposed mountaintop removal mine.
Tomorrow is a national day of action to end mountaintop removal, with 25 actions planned around the country. In Philadelphia, environmentalists will rally outside the EPA offices on 17th St & JFK Blvd. The protest runs from 11am-1pm and demands that the EPA cease approving permits for mountaintop removal sites.