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Tree-Sitters Shut Down Infamous Mountaintop Removal Operation; TVA Cops Strike Again

by Jeff Biggers

Perched on 60-foot-high platforms in tulip poplar and oak trees, three nonviolent tree-sitting protestors associated with Climate Ground Zero and Mountain Justice carried out the duty of the EPA and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection this morning--they reportedly shut down the reckless mountaintop removal blasting at the controversial Bee Tree Strip Mine on historic Coal River Mountain today.

Meanwhile, as a dark reminder of the anniversary of the the 2008 TVA coal ash disaster, nonviolent Tennessee residents and aide workers associated with the United Mountain Defense were arrested by the Tennessee Valley Authority police in a blatant act of harassment.

Only days after a major study published in Science magazine by a panel of environmental science experts called for the halt of mountaintop removal mining operations, citing "the preponderance of scientific evidence that impacts are pervasive and irreversible and that mitigation cannot compensate for losses," the tree-sitting protestors David Aaron Smith, 23, Amber Nitchman, 19 and Eric Blevins, 28, according to Climate Ground Zero reports, scaled trees by the access road to Massey Energy's infamous mountaintop removal operation near the Brushy Fork Impoundment. One of the nation's largest and most precarious coal slurry impoundments, the Brushy Fork pond hovers over the area residents in the Coal River Valley. The historic range, facing a devastating 6,600-acre strip mining operation, has been hailed by area residents and clean energy experts as an exemplary site for an industrial wind farm.

"Brushy Fork sludge dam places the downstream communities in imminent danger. The threat of being inundated by a wall of toxic sludge is always present. Blasting next to this dam increases the risk as well as destroying the opportunity for renewable wind energy," said Coal River Mountain Watch's Vernon Haltom. According to the Coal River Wind Project, the wind energy produced by a turbine farm on Coal River Mountain could power 70,000 homes, provide more permanent jobs for local residents and annually bring over a million more dollars in tax breaks revenue to Raleigh County than coal currently does.

For updates and video on the tree-sitters, visit the Climate Ground Zero site.

In Tennesee today, according to United Mountain Defense accounts, the bizarre antics of the TVA continued:

On Wednesday, January 20, 2010, (UMD) volunteer Matt Landon Jones and two journalists who were reporting on the current clean-up efforts of last year's Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal ash disaster where arrested by TVA police. Last year, a man-made earthen dam containing 50 years of contaminated coal ash erupted, forcing over 1 billion gallons of toxic ash into tributaries of the Tennessee River and devastated the surrounding community. Marking the event anniversary, the reporters were planning to report on the lives of the residents still living in the area as well as the communities receiving train loads of the toxic waste each week from the disaster site. Noticing the train cars filled with coal ash heading to Perry County, Alabama - a poor, predominately African American community where TVA is currently shipping large amounts of the coal ash for storage in a landfill. The journalists stopped to take photographs, at which point they were approached by TVA police. The TVA police detained all three individuals, confiscated their camera and searched their vehicle.

Landon stated, "TVA Officer Thomas Brooks forcefully ripped the video camera from my hands and proceeded to try and pry the battery pack and view screen from the video in an effort to stop the recording." The police officer was going to release the individual after writing up citations. The officer was nearly done writing up the citations when he received a phone call. Upon hanging up the phone, the officer told the three individuals that "things had changed." Instead of issuing warning citations, the officer then arrested and charged all three individuals with criminal trespassing in what can only be described as a gross overreaction."

"These arrests are part of a pattern of harassment of UMD volunteers by TVA," said Jones. "TVA has tried to prevent United Mountain Defense from conducting independent water testing, deploying air monitoring, and working with the community of Roane County and they have consistently harassed me while doing this work." In 2009, Jones was arrested for assisting a partially blind Roane County resident return to her home from a community meeting.

Here's a film clip of the incident:

For more updates, see the United Mountain Defense.

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