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Activists Risk Arrest to Stop Mountaintop Removal
COAL RIVER VALLEY, WV - June 18 - Moments ago, four concerned citizens entered onto Massey Energy’s mountaintop removal mine site near Twilight WV and have begun to scale a150-foot dragline machine to drop a banner that says, ‘stop mountaintop removal mining.’ The climbers plan to stay on the enormous dragline, a massive piece of equipment that removes house-sized chunks of blasted rock and earth to expose coal, until police arrest them. Equipped with satellites phones and a web camera, the climbers will be available for interviews.
This is the first time a dragline has been scaled on a mountaintop removal site, and marks the latest in a string of increasingly dramatic protests in West Virginia by residents and allies from across the country. This act of protest against mountaintop removal comes just days after the Obama Administration announced a plan to reform, but not abolish, the aggressive strip mining practice.
“It’s way past time for civil disobedience to stop mountaintop removal and move quickly toward clean, renewable energy sources,” said Judy Bonds, Goldman Environmental Prize winner and co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch of West Virginia. “For over a century, Appalachian communities have been crushed, flooded, and poisoned as a result of the country’s dangerous and outdated reliance on coal. How could the country care so little about our American mountains, our culture and our lives?”
An increasing number of concerned Appalachians and environmentalists are calling for the end to mountaintop removal, a practice that harms the people and places of Appalachia, destroys the economic potential of the Appalachian Mountains for long term clean energy opportunities and jobs, and furthers the burning of climate-killing coal.
“I’ve written letters, attended hearings and called my congressman, so far they have done nothing to stop the disastrous and unnecessary practice of mountaintop removal,” said Charles Suggs, a 25-year old of Rock Creek, WV who is one of those climbing today. “It has come to the point when we must take direct action to abolish this practice that is immorally robbing Appalachian communities of their culture, their health and their future.”
Every day, mountaintop removal mines use more explosive power than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Mining companies 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, and we are all responsible to stop it. Mountaintop removal, the world’s worst strip-mining, is unacceptable. Period.” said Rebecca Tarbotton 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 seven 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.
Just days before this action, 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.
Following this protest, on June 23rd leading climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, actress Daryl Hannah, Michael Brune, the Executive Director of Rainforest Action Network, and former Representative Hechler will join Coal River Valley residents in a second round of protests in West Virginia.