CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Fourteen people were arrested Thursday after an anti-mountaintop removal protest that shut down the dragline shovel at a Massey Energy operation in Boone County for several hours, police said.
Four activists scaled the boom of the huge, crane-like mining machine to unfurl a large banner that said, "Stop Mountaintop Removal." Other protesters spread a similar banner out on the ground.
Most of the activists were cited for trespassing and conspiracy, but four of them were also charged with fleeing police, littering, and battery after they allegedly shoved Massey workers to gain access to the dragline.
"They roughed up some employees of Massey," said Boone County Sheriff Rodney Miller. "They pushed them out of the way. They shoved them to get where they wanted to go."
One miner involved in the shoving incident was taken to the hospital as a precaution. But Miller said the worker was concerned the stress of the incident had aggravated his blood pressure or a heart condition, and that the hospital visit was "not altercation related."
Thursday's incident is the latest in a series of what had been billed as peaceful civil disobedience protests aimed at shutting down mountaintop removal mines and, in the process, generating more publicity about the damage caused by the practice.
The protest comes just days after the Obama administration announced a plan to try to more strictly regulate mountaintop removal to reduce the damage to forests and streams. Environmental groups had hoped Obama would ban the practice altogether.
"It's way past time for civil disobedience to stop mountaintop removal and move quickly toward clean, renewable energy sources," said Coal River Mountain Watch co-director Judy Bonds, who was not directly involved in Thursday's action.
"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a century, Appalachian communities have been crushed, flooded and poisoned as a result of the country's dangerous and outdated reliance on coal.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 cultures and our lives?"
Massey President Don Blankenship issued a statement that blasted the protesters.
"When protesters perform dangerous acts such as scaling the boom of a piece of equipment to gain media attention, they not only put themselves at risk, but also put our miners and state troopers in danger," Blankenship said. "Every West Virginian should be outraged that these people come from outside our state to shut down mines that are legally permitted to operate."
In neighboring Raleigh County, Massey has obtained a court order blocking more protests after filing a civil lawsuit against activists who took part in earlier actions against the company's mines there.
In Boone County, the protesters were being arraigned late Thursday afternoon. The protesters ranged in age from 21 to 47, and were from North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, Washington state, Ohio, Maine and Oklahoma. Two listed addresses in West Virginia, and one of those was a temporary address, police said.
A state mine safety inspector witnessed the protest, and reported that the protesters shoved at least one Massey miner in order to gain entry to the dragline, said Jama Jarrett, spokeswoman for the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.
The inspector had originally reported that a group of protesters "rushed" the miner who was injured, but later said that wasn't what happened, Jarrett said. Jarrett refused to identify the inspector.