Live from Coal River: Direct Action & March Against Coal Madness

Jeff Biggers/Stephanie Pistello

Note: This blog will be updated during the day, with dispatches, video and photos being filed with Stephanie Pistello.

"When I get to the other side, I shall tell God Almighty about West Virginia!" Mother Jones

UPDATE: 6pm EST. Goldman Prize Award Winner Attacked. During the rally
in front of the Massey Energy coal property today, Coal River Mountain
Watch co-director (and 2003 Goldman Prize Award winner) Judy Bonds was
reportedly assaulted by a Massey supporter. While Bonds was engaged in
a nonviolent protest, the Massey supporter lunged from the line without
any provocation and roughly slapped Bonds on the head, ear and jaw. The
Massey supporter also attempted an attack on another protestor, Lorelei
Scarbro, a coal miner's widow and local community organizer. The Massey
supporter was immediately apprehended by the police and charged with
battery, according to news reports.

For more information on Judy Bonds, see:

The crowd included dozens of Mountain Justice participants who have
been active in similar protests since 2005, including getting arrested
at the same site. (


UPDATE: 2:30 EST: 94-year-old Ken Hechler, the legendary West Virginia
congressman and coal miner hero who has been battling mountaintop
removal since 1971 was arrested in a non-violent protest with NASA's
celebrated climate scientist James Hansen, actress Daryl Hannah,
Michael Brune, the executive director of Rainforest Action Network, and
Goldman Prize winner Judy Bonds. Vietnam veteran Bo Webb, and dozens of
other coalfield residents were arrested 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.

In the face of recent Obama administration actions to regulate and not
abolish mountaintop removal, which has wiped out 500 mountains and
destroyed historic communities, the action launched a yearlong national
campaign to bring mountaintop removal to an end.

"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."

In an interview posted on Huffington Post last month, Hechler made a
special appeal to President Barack Obama to stand by his word and end
mountaintop removal.

That post is here:



As a massive turnout of state troopers and hundreds of protestors
pour into the Coal River Valley, here is today's scene for the historic
nonviolent direct action and march in West Virginia: A 2.8 billion
gallon toxic coal sludge impoundment behind the earthen Shumate Dam
hovers just a couple of football fields above the Marsh Fork Elementary
School, while massive mountaintop removal blasts boom daily within a
few feet, and where hundreds of concerned parents, families and
citizens from around the country have gathered to call to an end to
mountaintop removal--for the sake of the children, the coalfield
communities, and the Appalachian mountains.

UPDATE from Stephanie Pistello: 1:30pm EST: The state police allowed
the coal supporters to line up along the road and then to proceed into
playing field to intermingle with activists. The coal supporters are
generally being aggressive towards other rally participants and
chanting slogans such as "this is our state". The state police have
general allowed aggressively (shouting, physical intimidation, standing
very near/sitting on vehicals/equipment) activity and only intervene
when asked to (including allowing power cords to be ripped out of the
wall to silence the PA system). There are around 10 local media outlets
on the scene including 2 live broadcast trucks. Several old time bands
played from 11 to 12. Speakers started around noon and include Rev. Jim
Lewis (who coal supporters taunted and tried to shout down), retired
coal miner Chuck Nelson and Appalachian Voices biologist Matt Wasson
(former US Rep. Ken Hechler and Daryl Hannah will speak later.)

Along with NASA climatologist James Hansen, long-time environmental
activist and actress Daryl Hannah, retired coal miner Chuck Nelson, and
many other national environmental and political figures, the rally and
march from Marsh Fork Elementary School to a Goals Coal Prep Plant and
Massey Energy mountaintop removal site will be joined by two legendary
West Virginia titans: 88-year-old activist Winnie Fox, and 94-year-old
former US Representative Ken Hechler.

Here's a photo of Daryl Hannah at the school rally:


Here's the scene from the sky: mountaintop removal blasting near the Shumate coal sludge dam, and the elementary school below:


Over 500 mountains, 1.5 million acres of hardwood forests, and 1,200
miles of streams, along with historic mountain communities, have been
destroyed by mountaintop removal.

In a study the last fall by the Ashby-Tucker environmental firm, air
quality experts found that the coal dust blanketing the Marsh Fork
Elementary School exceeded accepted limits. According to the study, Dr.
D. Scott Simonton reported: "My concern about the school is that dust
levels not only appear to exceed human health reference levels, but
that the dust is largely made up of coal. Coal dust contains silica,
trace metals, and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), many of
which are known human carcinogens. PAH's have been found in dust
samples taken at the school. Inhalation of coal dust is known to cause
adverse health effects in humans, however, studies of coal dust
toxicity are understandably mostly of adult populations. Children are
particularly at risk from dust exposure in general, so it is reasonable
to assume that coal dust creates an even greater risk for children than
it does adults. The sampling to date certainly indicates that dust
levels and composition at the school reach a level of concern.
Particulate matter at levels found at the school has been shown to
cause adverse effects in children."

According to the evacuation plans, if the Shumate Dam and coal
sludge impoundment failed--as happened in eastern Kentucky in 2000 and
at the TVA coal ash pond--the school children and communities below
would have THREE MINUTES to flee.

Born in the eastern Kentucky coalfields, Winnie Fox's first protest
took place in 1930, when she insisted on drinking from a segregated
water foundation in Huntington, West Virginia, where her family moved
when she was a child. A former board director of the Ohio Valley
Environmental Coalition ( of the main organizations in
the battle against mountaintop removal--Fox has been involved in
stopping reckless pollution in the rivers and watersheds for decades,
dating back to her earliest movement against Ashland Oil's pulp mill
dumping of toxic material in the waterways.

Fox will be in a wheelchair today, but that will not stop her from
risking arrest at the coal prep plant and Massey Energy site.

In a 2007 interview with Shannon Bell, Fox declared that her battle
against mountaintop removal would be a lifelong commitment: "I would
never give up, I will never stop. Because to me, that would be
betraying everything that I am and everything I've ever been and
everything I ever hoped to be. And I've seen too much suffering by
these women [who are involved]. Too many sad stories."

Actress and environmental activist Daryl Hannah will speak at the
Educational Rally on Sustainable Solutions for West Virginia at the
Marsh Fork Elementary School today.

Hannah lives on a solar-powered ranch in the Rocky Mountains in the
West. In an interview with the Central Florida Green Guide, Hannah
said: "It's a small but beautiful house made with salvaged materials.
It's both passive and active solar, meaning it faces southwest. It is
bermed into the landscape and uses the natural movement of the sun and
the insulation of the earth to heat/cool the structure."

Hannah is a long-time activist with various environmental groups and
Greenpeace, and host of her own environmental

Here's a clip from the Sundance Channel about her work for solar energy.

Dr. James Hansen, the nation's foremost expert on climate change,
will not only risk arrest today, but has agreed to debate Massey Energy
CEO Don Blankenship on the reality of climate change.

"Stopping coal emissions is 80 percent of the solution to climate
change, and halting mountaintop removal is the essential, rational
first step," Hansen wrote. "Any politician who claims to support our
children and the environment, but also supports mountaintop removal, is
either a fool, a liar, or both."

Hansen recently published a piece on Huffington Post on mountaintop
removal and his decision to come to Coal River Valley:

And as the rally unfolds today, here's a clip of Marie Gunnoe, the
recent Goldman Prize Award winner, whose own home and hollow has been
been stripmined, and subjected to flooding seven times, describing the
disastrous realities of the coal sludge dam above the elementary school
and mountaintop removal blasting.

While the rally at Marsh Fork Elementary School and the nonviolent
march continues today, it is important to recall a similar moment in
West Virginia in 1923, when coal miners went out on strike.
Chicago-native Mary "Mother" Jones arrived to support the miners. Her
appeal to the West Virginia governor to support striking coal miner is
a haunting parallel to today's West Virginia governor Joe Manchin, who
has refused to deal with the Marsh Fork Elementary School, despite the
health care studies and parent complaints and campaigns.

"Governor," I said, Mother Jones wrote in her autobiography,"listen-do you hear anything?"

He listened a moment.

"No, Mother Jones, I do not."

"I do," said I. "I hear women and little boys and girls..."

The boys and girls of Marsh Fork Elementary School, and the
coalfield communities, along with Americans across the country, are
calling on the West Virginia governor, the EPA, the Council for
Environmental Quality, and President Barack Obama to listen.

More updates to come.

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