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Judge Blocks Further Protests Against Massey Energy Mountaintop Mining

by Ken Ward Jr.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge has temporarily ordered a halt to mountaintop-removal protests that involve trespassing on Massey Energy property or interfering with any of Massey's operations.

U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger granted Massey subsidiary Marfork Coal Co.'s request for a temporary restraining order against non-violent civil disobedience actions aimed at stopping its mountaintop-removal mining operations.

The order prohibits "trespassing or otherwise congregating" on mining property as well as "interfering, obstructing, blocking, impeding or tampering with" any mining properties in Southern West Virginia.

It applies specifically to five protesters who took part in a more-than-eight-day tree-sitting action and also to "their officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys, and those other persons who are in active concert or participation" with the named protesters.

Berger ruled that "the public has an interest in ensuring that property owners enjoy the exclusive use of their property" and that Massey was "being precluded from continuing its business of mining for coal" by the protesters.

The judge ruled that, "Even if the [court] assumes that Defendants have the right to call attention to any political or environmental cause, they have no right to unlawfully trespass upon the surface mine property."

Berger set her restraining order to run through 3 p.m. Feb. 10 and scheduled a hearing to consider Massey's request for a longer-term preliminary injunction for 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4 in U.S. District Court in Beckley.

A year ago Wednesday, Climate Ground Zero activists began their civil disobedience campaign against Massey with two actions that prompted 14 arrests, including those of five protesters who chained themselves to mining equipment at the Bee Tree operation, along Coal River Mountain in Raleigh County.

Police have made 150 arrests since the campaign began, but Massey lawyer Sam Brock argued in court papers that trespassing arrests would not deter more protests.

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