Tree Sit Halts the Blasting on Coal River Mountain

Cross Posted from Climate Ground Zero
Tree Sit Halts the Blasting on Coal River Mountain
Thursday, January 21st, 2010
posted by sophie

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JANUARY 21, 2010
Contact: Kim Ellis – 304 854 7372
Email: news@climategroundzero.org
Note: http://www.climategroundzero.org and http://www.mountainjustice.org

“Coal River Mountain was the last mountain around here that hasn’t been touched and they could’ve been using it for windmills…But Massey wants to get that coal. It seems like they just don’t care about the populace. Just the land and their checkbook.”
– Richard Bradford

MARFORK, W.Va. – Protestors associated with Climate Ground Zero and Mountain Justice halted blasting on Coal River Mountain today with a three-person tree-sit.  David Aaron Smith, 23, Amber Nitchman, 19 and Eric Blevins, 28 are on platforms approximately 60 feet up two tulip poplar trees and one oak tree.  They are located next to where Massey Energy is blasting to build an access road to the Brushy Fork Impoundment on its Bee Tree Strip Mine.  Their banners state: “Save Coal River Mtn.,” “EPA Stop the Blasting” and “Windmills Not Toxic Spills.”

“Massey Energy is a criminal corporation with over 4,500 documented violations of the Clean Water Act, yet the government has given them permission to blast next to a dam full of toxic coal waste that will kill 998 people if it fails.” said Blevins. This action comes at the heels of a rigorously peer-reviewed study published in Science Magazine which states “Mining permits are being issued despite the preponderance of scientific evidence that impacts are pervasive and irreversible and that mitigation cannot compensate for the losses.”

The sitters are calling for the EPA to put an end to mountaintop removal and encourage the land-holding companies to develop clean energy production.  The lack of EPA enforcement in mountaintop removal encouraged Josh Graupera, 19, member of the support team, to take part in this action “I knew that until I took an active role in the struggle to end MTR, I was passively condoning the poisoning and displacement of countless communities and in the obliteration of one of the oldest and most diverse ecosystems on this continent.” Graupera said. Nitchman added, “I act out of personal concern for the safety of water from toxic sludge, air from smog, and mountains from annihilation.”

The Brushy Fork Impoundment is permitted to contain over nine billion gallons of the toxic coal waste, and currently contains 8.2 billion gallons.  Brushy Fork’s foundation is built on a honeycomb of abandoned underground mines. If the foundation were to collapse the slurry would blow out from all sides of the mountain.   According to Marfork Coal Co.’s emergency warning plan regarding the impoundment, in case of a frontal dam breach, a 40 ft wall of sludge, 72 ft at its peak height, would engulf communities as far as 14 miles away.

“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.  Blasting next to this dam increases the risk as well as destroying the opportunity for renewable wind energy,” said Coal River Mountain Watch’s Vernon Haltom. According to the Coal River Wind Project, the wind energy produced by a turbine farm on Coal River Mountain could power 70,000 homes, provide more permanent jobs for local residents and annually bring over a million more dollars in tax breaks revenue to Raleigh County than coal currently does.

The sitters plan to remain in the trees as long as it takes to stop blasting on Coal River Mountain. Climate Ground Zero’s action campaign, begun in February of last year, has kept up a sustained series of direct actions since that time continuing decades-long resistance to strip mining in Appalachia.

Four Lock Down to Coal Truck on Kanawha County Strip Site

Climate Ground Zero Strikes Again!

QUARRIER, W.Va.- Four protestors locked down to a coal truck entering a mine site in the vicinity of Quarrier and Decota at 7 a.m. this morning. Four other protestors joined them on the Kanawha County site, hanging two banners; one across the haul road and another on the back of the truck. The first banner read “Stop,” the second “Stop Mountaintop Removal.”

The nonviolent protestors intend to remain locked to the coal truck until law enforcement removes them. They have taken this action to highlight the detrimental effects of mountaintop removal mining, including its lack of economic sustainability.

“By blocking this road, we aim to bring attention not only to Appalachia’s disappearing mountains, but also to its disappearing job market,” said Jonathon Irwin, 23.

The highly active site is near Cabin Creek and Paint Creek, an area rich in union history. Continue reading

Virginian’s Take a Stand on Dumping Mine Waste in Appalachian Streams

Here’s a quick and dirty personal report from the Nation Wide Permit – 21 public hearing held in Big Stone Gap, Va a week ago. The Army Corps of Engineers is taking public comment on their proposal to discontinue the use of this permit, which allows coal companies to receive permits for surface mining and the subsequent dumping of mine waste into valley fills without doing an environmental impact statement or holding public hearings. There is also a video put together by Appalachian Voices. You can still comment on the Army Corp’s proposal here. I’ve pasted some reasons you can mention in your comments for why the NWP-21s should not be used any more.

From the Virginia NWP-Hearing

From the West Virginia NWP-Hearing 

Personal report:

There were probably around 700 people total, at least 500 on the industry side, many with black t-shirts with catchy slogans about how coal wont kill people and stuff. They were intimidating, and at the beginning heckled, booed, and threw stuff at our speakers. But, fairly soon into it all, the Army Corps chair of the meeting put his foot down and said we’re gonna keep it civil while people are speaking, and so it was for the most part after that. 

By the end of the night, the room was pretty close to half industry and half not industry supporters. A lot of us walked away feeling pretty good, even victorious. We had stayed civil and respectable, made solid comments that stayed on topic, in the face of ugliness from folks who talked about lots of things besides whether the Corps should suspend the use of NWP 21s.

It was not the craziness of Charleston or Ky, and sounds something akin to Knoxville. We had peacekeepers with white bandannas, we had food that the volunteer house here in APpalachia cooked for everybody. Kathy Selvage and Pete Ramey took the worst from the industry folks, and by the time the endless stream of Virginia Tech students calling for an abolition of climate changing coal said their piece, many of the miners had left for home.  

 

 

Some points you can make when making comments to the Army Corps of Engineers at their online comment area are:

1. I applaud the Army Corps of Engineers for its proposal to end the use of the one-size-fits-all NWP 21 permit which allows for a streamlined approval of mountaintop removal operations in Appalachia. For decades, mountaintop removal and valleyfills have had a devastating impact on local communities, the economy, and our environment.

2. NWP 21 for permitting mountaintop removal mining should apply to the entire Appalachian region, including northern Alabama. Failure to do so might lead the coal industry to simply relocate operations to those areas with the most lenient permitting process.  
3. No grandfathering of permits should be allowed. Past permits should be reviewed to make sure they meet the spirit and intent of the Clean Water Act.

4. NWP 21 should never have been issued, because filling these streams has more than minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects.

5.  The use of NWP 21 is a violation of the Clean Water Act because it is suppose to be used for activities that produce “no significant environmental impact” and the destruction of entire mountains and mountain ranges cannot be considered an insignificant environmental impact.

6. EPA’s own scientists have determined that mountaintop removal and other surface coal mining activities authorized by NWP 21 are causing cumulatively significant degradation of streams and forests in Appalachia – including the destruction of ecologically valuable headwater streams and the pollution of downstream waters.

7. The Corps has long recognized that “the purpose of the NWP program is to reduce regulatory delays and burdens on the public, to place greater reliance on state and local controls, and to free our limited
resources for more effective regulation of other activities with greater potential to adversely impact the aquatic environment.” 56 Fed. Reg. 14, 598—14, 605 (Apr. 10, 1991).

 Possible points to make about this:

a. Constantly fighting coal companies and failed agencies to protect our homes, lives, water, and communities is a much greater burden on
the public.

b.  We have no state or local controls.  WVDEP is a failed agency that fails to control illegal coal company activity.

c.  Nothing adversely impacts the aquatic environment more than burying it.

8. The impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining are significant and permanent, the ArmyCorps should not issue any additional authorizations under NWP 21 while the agency finalizes the process of modifying the permit to prohibit its use in Appalachia.

9. The way the ACOE conducted these hearings was illegal and some of the public hearings amounted to sanctioned riots which coal supporters attended solely to disrupt. By failing to control the meeting process so that all in attendance had equal opportunity to testify, the Corpsbecame a party to the denial of these first amendment rights. The Corps should reschedule these meetings and conduct them in an orderly fashion that protects the first amendment rights of all citizens.

Update from Coal River Mountain Action

Coal River Valley Residents Declare State of Emergency, Meet with Governor Joe Manchin; Seven Sit-In at Governor’s Office

IMG_5632Coal River Valley residents and supporters associated with Mountain Justice and Climate Ground Zero delivered a letter to Governor’s Manchin’s office in the State Capitol building at 12:15 p.m. today. The statement from Coal River Valley residents calls on Manchin to use his executive powers to halt mountaintop removal mining operations on Coal River Mountain, one of the last intact mountains remaining in the Coal River Valley area.


Governor Manchin met the letter deliverers in the antechamber of his office and spoke with Lorelei Scarbro of Rock Creek and Chuck Nelson of Glen Daniel. As of 2:30 p.m. seven young people are sitting in the antechamber, refusing to leave until Manchin moves to halt MTR on Coal River Mountain or they are forcibly removed. Security guards conveyed to them that they have permission to remain until the close of normal business hours at 5 p.m..

“We are delivering this letter to our governor with residents of the Coal River Valley,” said Miranda Miller and Angela Wiley of Morgantown, W.Va., two of the seven sitters, “We are West Virginia citizens standing in solidarity with the people who submitted comments for this letter, voicing their concerns on the dangers of blasting on Coal River Mountain.
IMG_5831

For years, local residents have expressed their concerns over the long-term health effects of their proximity to coal mining and processing operations, while scientists have stated that it devastates local ecosystems and contaminates groundwater with carcinogens and heavy metals. One of the most imminent dangers associated with the proposed Coal River Mountain operation Continue reading

Coal River Valley Residents Demand Prevention of Blasting Coal River Mountain

save the kidsCoal River Valley Residents Demand Prevention of Blasting Coal River Mountain

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – At noon seven people will deliver a letter of concerns and personal statements regarding Massey Energy’s imminent mountaintop removal coal mining on Coal River Mountain to Joe Manchin at the West Virginia Governor’s Mansion. The deliverers have stated that they will refuse to leave until the letter is received and Manchin agrees to the community’s demands. The letter is signed by 13 residents of the Coal River Valley, at least four of whom will be present at today’s event.

The seven citizens to deliver the document are associated with Mountain Justice and Climate Ground Zero. In addition to Manchin, Coal River Valley residents are sending the document to the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Surface Mining, Mining Safety and Health Administation, WV Department of Environmental Protection, Post-mine Land Use Committee of the W.Va. State Government, Representative Nick Rahall, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Senator Robert Byrd and President Obama. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.