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.
“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
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.