Jan 08, 2010
Who needs to go to the movie theatre to watch Avatar and the horrors
of ruthless extraction companies when we have our own bizarre
mountaintop removal policies at play. Check out the trailers for this
Blair Mountain Scandal: National Park Service and WV State
Historic Preservation Officer See Dead People and Remove Historic
Battlefield from Registry: This Friday, Jan. 8th, the Federal
Register should post that the historic Blair Mountain Battlefield was
removed from the National Register on December 30, 2009, despite the
fact that TWO dead people are listed as landowning objectors!
(Note to Sen Robert Byrd: Your office needs to intervene in this outrageous scandal immediately.)
Scientists Diss Mountaintop Removal Policies: In a stunning new overview of the latest scientific studies, a group of leading scientists published a peer-reviewed paper this week in Science
magazine that concludes: "Scientific evidence of the severe
environmental and human impacts from mountaintop removal is strong and
irrefutable. Its impacts are pervasive and long lasting and there is no
evidence that any mitigation practices successfully reverse the damage
it causes." The authors' warning: "Regulators should no longer ignore
Whoops, EPA Regulators Ignore Science, Hands Out Massive MTR Permit, Claims 50% Reduction in Clean Water Act Crime is Progress:
On the heels of a selenium expert testimony last year that the Mud
River ecosystem faced "the brink of a major toxic event" from
strip-mining discharges, the EPA opened the floodgates for the massive Hobet 45
mountaintop removal operation in West Virginia, which has already wiped
out nearly 25 square miles. Hailing the blatant political compromise as
an environmental victory, the EPA declared that only 15,000 linear
feet--approximately three miles--of heathy stream channels would be
destroyed--a smashing 50% reduction in Clean Water Act crimes.
The EPA declared it is "committed to working with all parties to
ensure that our country's energy, including coal based generation, is
produced in a safe, healthier, and sustainable manner, and will
"continue to rely on the best available science to evaluate mining
Sustainable coal? Best available science?
Didn't the EPA even pay attention to Sen. Robert Byrd's admonition
last month: "The greatest threats to the future of coal do not come
from possible constraints on mountaintop removal mining or other
environmental regulations, but rather from rigid mindsets, depleting
coal reserves, and the declining demand for coal as more power plants
begin shifting to biomass and natural gas as a way to reduce emissions."
Big Coal Profits Soar With Mountaintop Removal News:
Two whoops and a holler after the EPA gave the green light for the
misguided Clean Water Act permit for the massive mountaintop removal
operation in West Virginia this week, Big Coal giants in St.
Louis--Arch and Patriot--saw their stocks skyrocket! According to MarketWatch,
Patriot stocks "set a new high water mark for the past year." Thanks
EPA! And just when utilities coal stockpiles have increased during the
summer for the first time in 25 years, and out-of-state coal companies
are slashing mining jobs and idling higher-cost mines to keep their
stock holders happy in a period of slumping demand.
The Blair Mountain Scandal, though, just might be the most bizarre
show in town this week. On December 30, 2009, the historic Blair
Mountain Battlefield was removed from the National Register by the
Interim Keeper of the National Register, Carol Shull, despite the fact
that the WV State Historic Preservation Officer list of land-owning
objectors admittedly included TWO DEAD PEOPLE and two life estate
holders--all of whom should be disqualified.
Not quite admittedly: In an email inquiry on January 6th, WV SHPO
Susan Pierce wrote: "We cannot confirm or deny that there are no
deceased on the SHPO list dated May 21, 2009."
Wow, this is a remarkable statement: If the SHPO, whose state
mandate is to "identify, recognize, preserve and protect West
Virginia's prehistoric and historic structures and sites," openly
doesn't even know who is an objector on the Blair Mountain list,
outside of what she has been told by the coal companies, should her
office be investigated for regulatory negligence?
And what about the National Park Service, and Interim Keeper of the
National Register, Carol Shull--should they be investigated for
Last spring, the Blair Mountain Battlefield was finally listed on the
National Register of Historic Places. Blair Mountain is not simply the
site of the most famous labor battle in the coal wars, or the place of
the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War, when thousands of
union coal miners and World War I veterans literally marched and fought
to liberate coal camps in southwestern West Virginia held hostage to
the whims of ruthless absentee coal companies in 1921. Blair Mountain
represents an attitude that is as relevant today as it was in 1921;
that the long-term jobs and safety and health of coal miners and coal
mining communities must be placed above the profit interests of outside
coal companies. The National Trust for Historic Preservation also
proclaimed Blair Mountain as one of our nation's most endangered
In 2005, United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts declared:
"The UMWA has always believed the Blair Mountain battle
site should be preserved, and I began publicly calling for it back in
the 1980's. We believe a monument should be erected at the site
explaining what happened there, and that the road running through the
site should be renamed Blizzard Highway, in honor of Bill Blizzard, the
miners' leader at Blair Mountain. We support preserving the land
immediately around the battle site, because we believe it's important
for future generations to stand on that ground, and understand the
importance of what happened there. This is also a personal issue for me
and thousands of others from coal mining families who have relatives
and ancestors who fought at Blair Mountain. What they did is a source
of pride and inspiration to our families, and helps give us the
strength to carry on their fight for justice. We will never forget it,
nor should America."
However, before the ink was dry on the National Registry, lawyers
representing three out-of-state coal companies, including Massey
Energy, somehow managed to round up new "objectors" to the Registry
status, and asked the WV Division of Culture and History to issue a
recount of the objectors vs. non-objectors. According to their own company report, "Jackson Kelly's lawyers aren't afraid to get their hands dirty..."
Now claiming there were more objectors than non-objectors among the
landowners, West Virginia officials moved to have the historic
Enter Dr. Harvard Ayers, emeritus professor of archaeology and anthropology at Appalachian State University, and the Friends of Blair Mountain,
who had personally identified 14 major battle sites in the area and
nominated the battlefield for Registry recognition with historian
During the SHPO comment period, Ayers hired a Charleston, WV real
estate attorney, John Kennedy Bailey, who found that SHPO's objector
count had numerous inconsistencies. "Instead of 57 landowners including
30 objectors," Ayers wrote, "we found that the numbers should be 61
landowners and only 25 legitimate objectors." Ayers and his attorney
submitted their findings--including the identification of two deceased
listed as objectors, and two life estate holders (who are technically
disqualified) within the comment period.
In April, a petition from a long list of some of the nation's most
prominent scholars, historians and archaeologists--including the
president of the Society for Historical Archaeology, the former
president of the American Historical Society, officers of the
Appalachian Studies Association--made a direct appeal to WV Gov. Joe
"The Blair Mountain Battlefield is a unique historic and cultural
treasure that deserves recognition and protection... No doubt much
remains to be discovered, and scholars must be able to continue to
study this important chapter in American history..We are concerned that
the recent attempt to delist Blair Mountain from the National Register
may be a first step toward strip-mining the mountain for coal
production, which will destroy the historic site. The National Park
Service found that the battlefield is both significant and intact, and
we believe it must be preserved for future generations."
SHPO, unlike their collaboration with the coal company lawyers,
refused to acknowledge Ayers' findings until last fall, when the
National Park Service insisted the SHPO review Ayers comments. SHPO
forwarded Ayers and his attorney Bailey's findings to a WV Assistant
Attorney, who concluded in November: "While I have not reviewed Mr.
Bailey's work in depth, I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of his
Strangely enough, failing to dispute the presence of two deceased
people and other inconsistencies on their own lists, the SHPO wrote in
their final report to the National Park Service: "Mr. Bailey's work
does not provide enough information to provide an accurate assessment."
SHPO kept to its original count of objectors, dead people and all.
Prof. Ayers concluded:
"For the last nine months, my attorney and I have been battling not one
but two bureaucracies, the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO)
of West Virginia, and the Keeper of the federal National Register of
Historic Places of the National Park Service (NPS). It can be pretty
frustrating as each agency says that the other is responsible for
reviewing and evaluating your well-researched and timely property-owner
data that would clearly overturn the NPS's stated intention to de-list
the Blair Mountain Battlefield. The sloppy property-owner work of the
SHPO set the stage for my disenfranchisement, and the NPS refused to
bother to take an objective look at the property owner data that my
attorney and I gathered at the Logan County, West Virginia, courthouse.
I can't believe the National Park Service would stand by
letting the West Virginia SHPO turn in a list of property owners within
the Battlefield when two of the 30 objectors are dead and gone, one for
27 years. Dead men don't sign letters. Two others on the SHPO list of
objectors are life-estate holders, a category the regulations do not
recognize as an owner. Then there's the matter of the 13 legitimate
property owners within the Battlefield that the SHPO failed to identify
with his superficial tax record research. Yet the federal NPS refuses
to require the SHPO to review my criticisms or to closely review my
data themselves when the SHPO refused to carry out its statutory duty.
Does the National Park Service really want to delist the most
important historic battlefield in the coalfields, based on the
non-existent objections of dead people?
And if so, has it violated any regulatory procedures?
Is there any national outrage at this Blair Mountain scandal from Cecil Roberts and the United Mines Workers?
Tell Interim Keeper of the National Register, Carol Shull, what you think.
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