Around 1:30 today, just three days after the Power Shift Conference and Capitol Climate Action in Washington, DC, and less than a week after Raleigh County Circuit Judge John A. Hutchison granted Massey Energy’s Temporary Restraining Order against Mike Roselle and other members of Climate Ground Zero, a new group of protesters took action to bring a halt to mountaintop removal mining on Massey Energy’s Edwight mining site above Marsh Fork Elementary in Sundial, WV.
Building upon the momentum of the conference, the growing movement against mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining and the urgency of protecting the children at Marsh Fork Elementary from the pending danger of a massive dam failure of the Schumate sludge impoundment above the school, activists were once again arrested during a protest on the Edwight MTR site. This time however, was different.
Displaying a banner stating “STOP BLASTING, SAVE THE KIDS” atop Massey Energy’s Edwight MTR site, all 5 were arrested and charged with trespassing. Among the group were Joe Gorman, a student from West Virginia University, Cassandra Rice a native of Fairmont, WV, Andrew Munn of University of Michigan and member of Student Environmental Action Coalition, Nicole Moston a freelance videographer and Mat Louis-Rosenberg of the group Mountain Justice.
Since 2005, local citizens have demanded that Marsh Fork Elementary School be moved to protect the children from a massive dam failure like the one that happened in Harriman, Tennessee on December 22 of last year. The Schumate Dam holds back 2.8 billion gallons of toxic coal waste in a sludge pond above the Marsh Fork Elementary School and upriver from the towns of Whitesville and Sylvester in the Coal River Valley, about an hour from Beckley, WV. If the dam were to fail, students and teachers at Marsh Fork would have less than a minute to get upriver before being lost under the rushing toxic spill.
Thursday’s protest shows that the concern for the health and future of southern West Virginia’s mountains and residents spans across the state and even across the nation. It also shows that not only an isolated group of residents and activists that oppose MTR, but increasingly more people are moved to the point of personally standing up to the coal companies in order to bring more attention to the inherent dangers and destruction that come with mountaintop removal coal mining.
“Personally I see this as an act of violence. It’s violence against nature and an act of violence toward the people who live here. Ethically it’s wrong, and it’s not even economically viable anymore. It’s just wrong on all fronts.” says Cassandra Rice.
Joe Gorman, “I believe this is the most important battle facing West Virginia. MTR specifically is the most horrific means of destroying jobs, health, and communities. When the coal is gone, I want there to be jobs for my children and grandchildren.”
Andrew Munn stated “Just across that valley is Coal River Mountain. There’s a dream on that mountain – wind energy promises long term prosperity to the community here. That’s why I’m here. The kids at Marsh Fork – the communities all around Coal River Valley – they deserve better than another destroyed mountain and the dangers that come with it.”
To which Mat Lewis-Rosenberg added, “When you combine that with the danger of going to school below a massive sludge dam, it’s obvious that Massey Energy needs to stop blasting the mountains now, and enable the development of safer and more economically stable alternatives.”
Today’s protest stands as a symbol of the growing movement against MTR. Over 150 residents from West Virginia joined a hundred other Appalachian residents at last weekend’s Power Shift Conference, which was marked by a substantial focus on mountaintop removal coal mining. Thousands of protesters stood in solidarity at the conference with those being impacted by MTR and cheered Judy Bonds of Rock Creek, WV as she spoke of what was happening in southern West Virginia.
Area resident Bo Webb stated, “This assault by Massey Energy on our mountains and surrounding communities will no longer be tolerated. Our rights have been stripped aside as our mountains have been stripped away. Americans of good conscious everywhere have been taking notice and now they are taking action.”
There is promise on the way. Alongside the civil disobedience campaign, folks working on Capitol Hill have gained 117 co-sponsors on the Clean Water Protection Act, which would restore the regulatory strength of the Clean Water Act by outlawing valley fills – dealing a serious blow to mountain top removal coal mining. The light is shining at the end of the tunnel. Lobbyists, activistis, and organizers – don’t slow down now.