Hundreds of people in West Virginia are marching to let the nation know the people of "coal country" want an end to the destructive practice of blowing the tops off of mountains to mine coal.
Instead, they want a sustainable economy that provides clean, healthy renewable energy jobs – they’d prefer to see wind turbines on mountaintops than have no mountaintops at all, which costs the health of humans and wildlife.
Why do coal companies like mountaintop mining so much? It’s cheaper than underground mining.
During the Bush Administration, the already loose regulations were loosened even more, allowing coal companies to simply dump the debris right into the rivers below. The coal industry term for this debris is "overburden" – the topsoil, trees, and rocks that contain toxic heavy metals. It contaminates drinking water, and kills off wildlife.
According to a U.S. EPA report last year, mountaintop removal has blown off the tops of 500 mountains and buried almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams.
People that live near these mountains often choose to vacate their homes rather than endure the endless "bombs," flooding and terrible air quality.
March on Blair Mountain
The 50-mile "March on Blair Mountain" kicked off with a press conference where community members called for protection of Blair Mountain, abolition of mountaintop removal, strengthened labor rights, and a transition to a sustainable economy in Appalachia.
The peaceful trek to Blair Mountain follows the same route coal miners took in 1921 in an effort to gain basic human rights and civil liberties. The ensuing battle between 10,000 coal miners and the coal industry’s hired gunmen was the largest armed uprising in US history since the Civil War, and was a landmark event in labor struggles of the early 20th century.
In March of 2009, Blair Mountain was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but because of coal industry pressure, state agencies de-listed it nine months later.
"Mountaintop removal eliminates jobs, not creates jobs," says retired UMWA miner Joe Stanley. "I’m doing this to preserve the history and culture Blair Mountain represents. If we allow them to destroy Blair Mountain we’ll forget the actions done by brave men that led to strengthening the labor movement and creating the middle class."
The march will end with a rally in Blair, W.Va., on June 11, where Emmylou Harris, Kathy Mattea, Ashley Judd, and other artists will perform. Robert Kennedy, Jr. will speak at the rally, along with acclaimed Appalachian writer Denise Giardina and retired UMWA miner and community leader Chuck Nelson.
"King Coal owns our land and our politicians, they lead them to ignore mining safety laws and ignore every environmental law in the book. Our mountains are special and shouldn’t be destroyed for this," says Mingo County native Wilma Steele.
New Documentary Coming to Theatres
"The Last Mountain," a documentary that shows the horrors of mountaintop removal coal mining, and the battle between locals and "Big Coal," will be in movie theatres across the US this month.
The film’s makers, which raised the $1-2 million budget from private individuals, hope it will spur Americans to take action over the environmental effects of "Big Coal."
Robert Kennedy Jr, an environmental law attorney and son of the late Bobby Kennedy, calls it "The worst man-made environmental disaster on the North American continent."
"It’s a template for every environmental issue because it has all the ingredients, including the subversion of democracy and the colonial effect of corporate power on localities. Large corporations come and subdue the people and extract the wealth. And leave impoverished, devastated culture and society behind," he continues.
In his book, "Crimes Against Nature," he argues that government agencies "have become the sock puppets or instrumentality for the industry that it is supposed to regulate."
The documentary shows that while industry and the region’s Congressional representatives argue the mining is necessary for Appalachia’s economy and job creation, the opposite is true. The film argues that wind energy would create many more jobs, while cleaning the air and protecting wildlife and the region’s stunning landscapes.
"50 years ago there were 151,000 coal miners in West Virginia and today there are 15,000 and yet the coal coming out each year has soared in that period of time," Kennedy says.
"Coal doesn’t bring prosperity. It brings poverty and destruction." The coal companies, he says, "have meticulously and ruthlessly and mercilessly replaced human labor with bombs and machines."
Massey Energy, the movie’s corporate villain, committed 67,000 violations of the Clean Water Act in five years and coal companies detonate 25,000 tons of explosives daily in West Virginia, "the equivalent of a Hiroshima bomb once a week," Kennedy explains.
Watch a video on mountaintop mining.
Here’s information on the March.
Here’s info on the documentary: