Dendron, Va chooses its own future.

Cross-posted from the CCAN Blog

Dendron, Virginia, has more than its share of challenges. The community of around 300, located in the southern corner of Surry County, struggles with an outdated municipal water system, crumbling sidewalks and no major businesses within the town.

Prior to the Great Depression, Dendron had been a company town of more than 3,000, fueled by the lumber industry’s presence there. Private business thrived in a town that revolved around the processing and export of timber across the country. Despite its character as an industrial one-trick-pony, the town of Dendron had something to stand for, and an industry to be proud of.

Today’s Dendron little resembles that historic vision of the 1900’s boomtown. Largely forgotten by the industry that once supported a thriving community, and facing serious municipal and community problems, such as an unexpected $10,000 water bill, you’d think the small town would take anything at this point to give it an economic boost.

The Old Dominion Electric Cooperative assumed this to be true when executives within the cooperative approached Dendronites with a plan for a new 1,500-megawatt coal-fired power plant, the second largest of its kind in Virginia. ODEC presented the Cypress Creek project with the promise of new jobs, tax revenue, and the idea that one major industry would bring others to the cash-strapped community. Despite local environmental effects and immediate hazards to human health, ODEC worked to assure Dendron residents that they stood to benefit from such a plant’s construction. ODEC also assumed that they’d buy into it without any major hiccups.

The cooperative, which has endlessly dispelled misinformation concerning the proposed plant (see Hope for Surry Shines through smog, 3 June), encountered a major hiccup Monday evening. As the Dendron Town Council met for its second meeting to deliberate the adoption of an ordinance that would allow the coal-friendly county board of supervisors to assume the community’s zoning rights, tensions – and temperatures – began to rise in the small side room of the Dendron Volunteer Fire Department, the only building large enough to host the crowd of more than 100. Fans reading, “NO COAL PLANT,” undulated throughout, filling the room as it quickly approached capacity, and Mayor Yvonne Pierce called the meeting to order.

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Footage of Mountaintop Removal Operations at Kayford Mountain, Wv

This just came from my good friend Jordan Freeman, who has also been working the last couple of years on a documentary project called Coal Country, being released in a matter of weeks. The footage is of Kayford Mountain, in the Coal River Valley of Wv, site of recent protests and the heart of the modern struggle against abusive strip mining and mountaintop removal.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=2327760&dest=-1]

EPA Releases Locations of 44 “High Risk” Coal Ash Sites

Written by Peebles Squire, cross-posted from the CCAN blog.
EPA LogoYesterday, the EPA performed a turn-around on its protection of the locations of 44 “high risk” coal ash impoundment sites, signaling a desire to make the regulatory body more transparent. Formerly protected under the auspices of national security, the ash impoundments, located in Ohio, Arizona, and throughout the southeast, have been determined to be particularly vulnerable to failure. In a time where the future of American energy remains stuck between antiquated fossil fuels and cleaner, renewable technology, concerns over proper disposal of coal ash has risen to the top of the debate, particularly after last December’s TVA sludge disaster in Roane County, Tennessee.

The reason behind this concern is, of course, fairly easy to identify. Coal slurry ponds, which may hold several billion gallons of the toxic sludge, are typically held in place by earthen dams made of rock and other fill material. While typically sturdy, history has shown us that these dams are definitely prone to failure, especially when not regulated properly. In fact, the dangers surrounding slurry dams have been well known and well documented for decades. West Virginia’s Buffalo Creek Flood of 1972 destroyed over 500 homes with a 30-foot high, 132 million gallon wave of the toxic stuff. When blasting occurs near these ponds (as it does near Marsh Fork Elmentary in Sunrise, WV), the risk becomes intensified as nearby shockwaves may threaten the structural integrity of the dam.

Marsh Fork Elementary School and a neighboring sludge pond.

Fly ash, though dry and therefore less at risk to flooding, presents just as serious a hazard to the local ecosystem, including surrounding communities, wildlife, and groundwater reserves. Fly ash is stored in landfills, most of which are lined, but all of which are failure-prone. Particles in the air, blown from these ash impoundments, can cause serious health problems such as asthma and other respiratory diseases. Like wet slurry, fly ash contains a cocktail of harmful heavy metals and other contaminants that present a serious threat to the local and regional ecosystem… and to human health.

“CCRs [coal combustion residues] contain a broad range of metals, for example, arsenic, selenium, cadmium, lead, and mercury, but the concentrations of these are generally low. However, if not properly managed, (for example, in lined units), CCRs may cause a risk to human health and the environment and, in fact, EPA has documented cases of environmental damage“ (courtesy EPA.gov).

The collection and storage of coal ash is but one piece in a larger fossil fuel regime that thrives on the continued exploitation of the United States’ natural, non-renewable resources, known to cause significant air pollution and contribute to global climate change. The coal extraction, combustion, and disposal process is among the most destructive practices in human history, and with the continued popularity of mountaintop removal mining, the coal industry goes so far as to threaten the geography of Appalachia itself.

The EPA has made positive steps in naming these so-called high-risk sites, but seems to be avoiding tackling the bigger picture; coal is an unsustainable resource that is dirty, harmful, and dangerous. While 44 of these impoundment sites may be deemed more at-risk than others, the fact remains that anywhere coal is extracted, burned, or stored, safety is a non-issue, because coal is not, and never will be, “safe.”

President Obama, who has so far struggled with fulfilling his promise of increased transparency and accountability within government, has made significant forward progress by allowing the release of these 44 sites. However, the larger issue of formulating an American energy future – one without coal – rests untackled. As long as coal is allowed to thrive in Appalachia, the Midwest, and elsewhere, American citizens will remain at risk. The fossil fuel industry represents an old and outdated way of thinking: the idea that our actions now will bear no consequence on the future. We have now stepped healthily into the 21st century, largely thankful to the energy that fossil fuels of yore have given us, and as we continue to evolve as a species and a society, we are charged with abandoning a tradition that will serve no other end but to continue to harm Americans.

President Obama, Congress, and the EPA, if we are to bring the United States into a clean energy future, one that emphasizes the importance of renewable technologies, green jobs, and energy that is free of filthy, harmful substances, then we must see a real effort to focus on goals that do not give coal a future in the grid. The EPA seems to think that the term, “high risk,” should be reserved for a mere 44 out of the hundreds of slurry ponds and fly ash fills that sprinkle the American landscape. A more appropriate move would be to extend the “high risk” moniker to its proper breadth, across the entire industry.

James Hansen, Darryl Hannah, Former Congressman Arrested Protesting Mountaintop Removal


Hundreds of anti-mountaintop removal activists gathered today at the Marsh Fork Elementary in Sundial, WV, deep in the Appalachian mountains. Hundreds of pro-coal counter protesters also turned out, resulting in constant interruption of speakers and musical performers and culminating in charges of battery against a local woman who struck Goldman Environmental Prize winner Judy Bonds in the face.

Check out Climate Ground Zero for pictures and updates, Jeff Biggers always excellent article for more info.

You can check the Charleston Gazette for more info — including a brief video.

Footage and Comments from Folks On Massey Dragline Protest in Boone Co. Wv yesterday

Also check out mountain action for more updates and information and photographs from the action yesterday. Stay tuned for next weeks action at Marsh Fork with James Hansen and Mountain Justice


I especially want to send this to people who don’t know us personally and so may not be completely sure of our peaceful intentions and excellent preparations, so pls pass on.

First of all, I was there in the protest the whole time acting as “medic” and talked with several workers and police about the man who was ill. (I’m a qualified EMT by the way)

When we first noticed someone was sitting on the ground and being attended to, we had already been detained and were sitting in a group behind the drag line main body where the police cars were. Including the time before the police came and eventually put us into custody, this was already at least two hours from the start of the thing when we approached the machine and it’s workers.

I did my best to observe the man tho he was on the front side in front of the right foot which was up off the ground giving 3-4 feet of view under it. I saw a worker by him apparently checking the man’s vitals. That was the most of the care they gave him over at least an hour’s time, as far as I could tell.

I asked several workers over that time what happened to him and was told at least twice by different workers that he had had a stroke in February and wasn’t feeling good. I asked one of the sheriff’s about him and offered my help as an EMT if there was any need. They said they thought he’d be fine and refused my offer. Worker’s I asked how the man was doing also said he’d be fine.

After over an hour, as much as 1 1/2 hours I’d say, they put a blanket around him, brought an oxygen bottle to him and got him on a small stretcher and carried him into a van to drive off. I never got to see his face and did not see any oxygen being delivered. They said they were waiting on an ambulance but apparently decided to move him themselves since it was taking so long.

Sooooo, the very first time anybody said anything about him being assaulted and this leading to a hospital visit was from Massey’s PR people thru the media with support of a mine inspector who claims they saw it all but whose story has changed and won’t give their name and be interviewed by the press. We were not even handcuffed until the state trooper got there much later than the sheriffs.

I’ll leave y’all to your own conclusions but just say from my perspective that it’s pretty damned low to be using a person with a serious health condition as a propaganda tool. But then Massey is in the business of death. We just have to be prepared to deal w/ such scummy tactics forthrightly and w/ trust in our people.

Facing down terrorism in Appalachia

Below are the words of a friend Bo Webb, in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia. He is fighting to save his home from the real Eco-Terrorists: corrupt regulatory agencies and mining companies. Send this along as you see fit. Its been picked up by Grist and Alternet as well.

Dear Mr. President,

As I write this letter, I brace myself for another round of nerve-wracking explosives being detonated above my home in the mountains of West Virginia. Outside my door, pulverized rock dust, laden with diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate explosives hovers in the air, along with the residual of heavy metals that once lay dormant underground.

The mountain above me, once a thriving forest, has been blasted into a pile of rock and mud rubble. Two years ago, it was covered with rich black topsoil and abounded with hardwood trees, rhododendrons, ferns and flowers. The understory thrived with herbs such as ginseng, black cohosh, yellow root and many other medicinal plants. Black bears, deer, wild turkey, hawks, owls and thousands of [other] birds lived here. The mountain contained sparkling streams teeming with aquatic life and fish.

Now it is all gone. It is all dead. I live at the bottom of a mountain-top-removal coal-mining operation in the Peachtree community.

Mr. President Obama, I am writing you because we have simply run out of options. Last week, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court in Richmond, Va., overturned a federal court ruling for greater environmental restrictions on mountaintop-removal permits. Dozens of permits now stand to be rushed through. As you know, in December, the EPA under George W. Bush allowed an 11th-hour change to the stream buffer zone rule, further unleashing the coal companies to do as they please.

During your presidential campaign, you declared: “We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains.”

That time is now. Or never.

Every day, more than 3 million pounds of explosives are detonated in our state to remove our mountains and expose the thin seams of coal. Over 470 mountains in Appalachia have been destroyed in this process, the coal scooped up and hauled away to be burned at coal-fired power plants across our country and abroad. This includes the Potomac River Plant, which generates the electricity for the White House.

Mountaintop removal is the dirty secret in our nation’s energy supply. If coal can’t be mined clean, it can’t be called clean. Here, at the point of extraction, coal passes through a preparation plant that manages to remove some, but not all, of the metals and toxins. Those separated impurities are stored in mammoth toxic sludge dams above our communities throughout Appalachia.

There are three sludge dams within 10 miles of my home. Coal companies are now blasting directly above and next to a dam above my home that contains over 2 billion gallons of toxic waste. That is the same seeping dam that hovers just 400 yards above the Marsh Fork Elementary School. As you know, coal sludge dams have failed before, and lives have been lost.

My family and I, like many American citizens in Appalachia, are living in a state of terror. Like sitting ducks waiting to be buried in an avalanche of mountain waste, or crushed by a falling boulder, we are trapped in a war zone within our own country.

In 1968, I served my country in Vietnam as part of the 1st Battalion 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. As you know, Appalachians have never failed to serve our country; our mountain riflemen stood with George Washington at the surrender of the British in Yorktown. West Virginia provided more per capita soldiers for the Union during the Civil War than any other state; we have given our blood for every war since.

We have also given our blood for the burden of coal in these mountains. My uncle died in the underground mines at the age of 17; another uncle was paralyzed from an accident. My dad worked in an underground mine. Many in my family have suffered from black-lung disease.

These mountains are our home. My family roots are deep in these mountains. We homesteaded this area in the 1820s. This is where I was born. This is where I will die.

On Jan. 15, 1972, U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller made a speech at Morris Harvey College. He declared: “The government has turned its back on the many West Virginians who have borne out of their property and out of their pocketbook the destructive impact of strip-mining. We hear that the governor once claimed to have wept as he flew over the strip mine devastation of our state. Now it’s the people who weep.”

Our state government has turned its back on us in 2009.

Peachtree is but one of hundreds of Appalachian communities that are being bombed. Our property has been devalued to worthlessness. Our neighbors put their kids to bed at night with the fear of being crushed or swept away in toxic sludge. And the outside coal industries continue their criminal activity through misleading and false ads.

Mr. President, when I heard you talk during your campaign stops, it made me feel like there was hope for Peachtree and the Coal River Valley of West Virginia. Hope for me and my family.

Abraham Lincoln wrote that we cannot escape history: “The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.”

I beg you to re-light our flame of hope and honor and immediately stop the coal companies from blasting so near our homes and endangering our lives. As you have said, we must find another way than blowing off the tops of our mountains. We must end mountaintop removal.

I also ask you to please put an end to these dangerous toxic-sludge dams.

With utmost respect, yours truly,

Bo Webb
Naoma, W.V.

Of Strip Mines and Windmills

UMD volunteers flying with South Wings over Southern Appalachia. The first video is of the future, rising out of the obscurity and haze of today into the possibilities of tomorrow. The second is of today’s tragedy, today’s misery, of the pillage of our future. We get to choose which one we live.