Why I Was Arrested in Coal River, West Virginia

Why would I fly across the country on my own dime knowing I would
most likely end up in jail in one of the poorest parts of America?

Well, have you ever heard of MTR?

Don't feel bad, my friends are intelligent, well-read and informed
people, but most of them had never heard of MTR (Mountain Top Removal)

So, I went to Coal River to help bring much needed attention to this
hidden, criminal (but somehow legal) form of mining. I was honored to
be joining an inspiringly brave group of concerned Americans, which
included NASA climate scientist James Hansen who was among the first to
sound the alarm on the climate crisis. The sharp, charismatic, 94 year
old, former West Virginia U.S. Representative and Secretary of State
Ken Hechler, who was the first congressman to introduce a Federal bill
to abolish strip mining in 1971. (If passed the bill could have
prevented this mess we find ourselves in.) And I was deeply moved to be
arrested with those affected by MTR in Kentucky, and the many local
residents fighting for their very lives, including a half dozen senior
citizens, canes, walkers and all.

Mountain Top Removal is a devastatingly destructive form of mining
and has already destroyed 2,000,000 acres in the Appalachian Mountains.

Coal companies have literally blown up over 500 mountain tops to access the coal seams and then dumped the refuse into the valleys below, killing over 3000
miles of headwater streams. The EPA just gave the go ahead for an
additional 42 mountaintops to be blown off with another 6 permits

Mountain Top Removal leaves behind a virtual hideous moonscape of
devastated earth, billions of gallons of poisonous toxic sludge, and
boarded up towns with dramatically high rates of cancer.

Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for, and am deeply indebted
to the miners working in coalmines and on MTR projects who risk their
lives daily to bring power to our country. I understand they feel
threatened by anything that might take away their jobs. And, I don't
want to see them lose more jobs, as 75% of mining jobs have already
been lost to the machines and explosives of MTR.

While it takes fewer miners to remove coal with Mountain Top
Removal, there are just as many dangers, accidents and fatalities! It
is a cheaper way for the companies to mine and that's why it's becoming
so pervasive.

Yesterday, I received this email from a woman in Virginia:

Dear Daryl,

Thank you so much for coming to West Virginia and trying to save our
mountains from Mountain top removal. I am a 9th generation Appalachian
and it pains us to see what is happening. If it was not for the
Internet I wouldn't have known about your efforts. Massey has quite a
bit of influence of the local media in the coalfields. I am sorry you
were arrested but I thank you for standing up for what is right. We
need to work on sustainable communities here in the mountains so that
coal miners will have opportunities for jobs not so dangerous. My
brother works, when he can't find anything else, at the mines driving
the large dump trucks that haul the coal out of the pits. It's
dangerous work even if you are not underground. You just wouldn't
believe the equipment they give them to work with. This one site he was
in this massive huge dump truck that the floorboard was rusted out with
open holes. Rocks would fly back into the cab from the tires. And when
it rains, it's a mudslide. One of his co -workers was killed when the
dump truck went over an embankment last year. Reporting gets you fired.
And yet these workers will defend the job because there is nothing
else. So thank you for standing up with us. We do appreciate it.

Then there's the sickness...

According to WVU's institute for health policy research, coal county
residents are more likely to suffer from chronic heart, lung and kidney
diseases, cancers and generally suffer from excess numbers of premature
death. There's a high cancer risk for up to 1 out of every 50 Americans
living near the more than 100 billion gallons of toxic sludge in the
clay-lined and unlined (the majority unlined) coal ash landfills and
slurry ponds, such as the TVA Kingston ash sludge landfill that
collapsed into the Emory River in December.

Tennessee Valley Authority officials consistently have said the ash
spilled in December from the utility's Kingston Fossil Plant wet
landfill in Harriman, Tenn., and in January from its Widows Creek pond
in Stevenson, Ala., is non-hazardous... but after the spill, regulatory
and independent testing have found high levels of toxicity in the
spilled waste and raw water where the two spills occurred. Thirty-one
of the landfills and slurry ponds in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama are
on or near major waterways!

The slurry pond above the Marsh fork elementary school where we held
our protest holds 2.8 billion gallons (it's one of the smallest ponds
-- one nearby in brushing fork holds 9 billion gallons) of sludge in
unlined pits containing arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.

Tragically but predictably in coal river valley, the children are
often sick with headaches and asthma, and among the 200 students and
teachers at Marsh Fork elementary school cancer rates are higher than

Three teachers have died from cancer and one is struggling with the disease now.

In 2005 one student died from ovarian cancer at age seventeen and another is still battling ovarian cancer.

Today I received this from a man in Raleigh County, West Virginia:

West Virginia. It is hell.

Every morning a 6 am my cat starts coughing. My eyes burn, my nose
burns (sometimes bleeds), I get ill, and my health continues to fall
apart. I got two forms of cancer, I can't drink the water... and we are
15 miles from Marsha Fork where they are making (was supposed to be
shut down) a cyanide based pesticide that in an accident killed 1800
people in India. My kid is lead poisoned, my wife is- and in a mile
radius 10 people have had heart attacks or died from whatever is here.
The dust is full of arsenic and the Massey power plants create a blue
haze which is really sulfuric acid. EPA won't come near this place. It
is owned by the coal industry. Thousands, who live here and are dying
from 100 miles of rivers under coal sludge, Do the earth a favor and
check on this and if you feel like improving our life send us a ticket
out of here. I am sending you a picture of my son. He is being poisoned
here. It breaks my heart. We cannot even get workman's comp and have
huge families. We are the poor of southern West Virginia..

State regulators are telling the people that it's an "improvement"
to flatten a forested mountain, seed it with grass and hope that some
shrubs will grow -- and then allow hunters who have signed "the
appropriate waivers of liability, indemnifications and assumptions of
risks" to hunt whatever animals might choose to inhabit such barren

As humorist Dave Barry says, we're not making this up, although we wish we were.

Let me make one thing clear... there is no such thing as clean coal!!!

I wish President Obama would stop using the term and take CEQ chief
Nancy Sutley and EPA head Lisa Jackson to visit these unfortunate
mining sites under their jurisdiction.

When we flip the switch to turn our lights on, most of us have no idea where that power comes from.

According to the U.S. dept. of energy, more than 50% of our electricity comes from coal.

Coal emits much more carbon (CO2) per unit of energy than oil and
natural gas. From the acid drainage of mines polluting rivers and
streams, to the release of mercury and other toxins when its burned
into the atmosphere, the fine particulates that wreak havoc on human
health, and the colossal waste, coal pollutes every step of the way

"Clean coal" is the industry's attempt to "clean up" its dirty image
-- the industry's greenwash buzzword. It is not a new type of coal.
"Clean coal" methods only move pollutants from one waste stream to
another. Coal is a dirty business!

The good news is we have a solution! A study of the long-term benefits of infinite Wind Power versus finite
coal MTR in Coal River Mountain, West Virginia already exists. They
show "excellent potential" for efficiency, productivity and economic
benefit. Though it doesn't have short-term financial returns, wind
promises to provide clean, inexpensive energy and offers scores of safe
jobs for the long term. Just check out the staggering figures from a
report released by the American Wind Energy Association: "wind industry
jobs jumped to 85,000 in 2008, a 70% increase from the previous year."
Renewable energy will continue to grow exponentially, whereas mining
jobs have decreased or remained relatively stagnant at "81,000 workers"
for over 20 years, according to the 2007 U.S. dept of energy report.

I can understand why those who live in coal towns are frustrated, because while we have this technology available to us now -- it is still just "a promise" in these regions.

It's imperative we let our president, our elected public servants and
entrepreneurs know that this is where we want our investment to be

Hopefully some wise, forward thinking heroes will step up the plate,
build the wind farm and take this incredible win, win, wind,
opportunity to bury the dirty dinosaur of Mountain Top Removal forever.




Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.