Climate Change

Published on July 23rd, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer

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Young Coal Activists Shut Mountaintop Mining for Four Hours

Four protesters in their 20s who succeeded in briefly halting mountaintop removal on Coal River Mountain in West Virginia are now in jail on a collective bail amount of $12,000.

They had chained themselves to a piece of mining equipment, and were briefly able to shut down operations of a Massey Energy subsidiary in Western Raleigh County, West Virginia for several hours in hope of bringing attention to the losses sustained if mountaintop removal continues.

Image: Mountain Justice Coal_Protesters

Protesters chained to the massive "highwall miner" equipment

Marfork Coal Company – which is among the mining subsidiary companies owned by Don Blankenship – called State Police out to the mine to remove the protesters.

While in custody, Kathryn Huszcza, 22; Colin Flood, 22; Sophie Kern, 20; and James Tobias, 22 young activists with Mountain Justice and Climate Ground Zero issued statements underlining the urgent need to end mountaintop removal.

“In West Virginia an entire way of life is not only being destroyed but is becoming impossible to resume” wrote one of the protesters, Colin Flood, 22. “The water is no longer fit to drink; it has to be store bought. Every mountain that is destroyed takes with it hunting grounds, fishing waters, and many species of edible mushrooms and plants, all of which once provided income and sustenance free for the using”.

The activists are specifically spotlighting dangers from a massive toxic coal waste containment pond, the Brushy Fork Sludge Impoundment. Despite siting it over a honeycomb of abandoned underground mines, it has a permit to fill it to 8.2 billion gallons.

The region is notorious for its corruption in dealings with coal companies, resulting in speedy permitting and limited environmental oversight, even when a violation of the Clean Water Act is clearly happening.

If the foundation were to collapse, as a containment pond did in Kentucky two Christmases ago, toxic coal slurry would engulf entire communities 14 miles downhill. “The 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” said Vernon Haltom, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch.

“The protesters expect a long fight before blasting on Coal River Mountain stops and they remain committed to that fight,” said Tobias, one of the support team. “This is a fight for the heart of Appalachia and the soul of America,” he said. “Land and freedom have always gone hand in hand. When you strip bare the land, you strip bare freedom. We won’t stop until the land is safe in the hands of those in the community who care for it.”

The Marfork Coal Company’s emergency warning plan even names this risk; that the containment pond could evacuate its toxic coal slurry to the communities 14 miles downstream. As evidence of the power of King Coal, there appears to be no environmental protection whatsoever for actual human beings who live in danger in those communities.

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