ALERT: Blasting Begins on Coal River Mountain

An update from Coal River Mountain Watch and Appalachian Voices. You can take emergency action here.

Mountaintop Removal Mining to Destroy 6,600 Acres-and Wind Potential

Appalachian community advocates and environmentalists across the nation are expressing outrage that mountaintop removal coal mining operations have begun on Coal River Mountain in West Virginia, a mountain that has become symbolic in the nationwide campaign to end mountaintop removal mining. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection told the Charleston Gazette on Monday that blasting had begun last week, confirming local reports of blasts and smoke that were witnessed on Friday near the Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment, the largest slurry dam in Appalachia with the capacity to hold 8.2 billion gallons. Slurry is the by-product of coal washing and processing operations and contains high levels of toxic heavy metals like mercury, selenium and lead.

For the last two years, local residents have campaigned for the opportunity to place a commercial-scale wind farm on Coal River Mountain instead of the mountaintop removal mining that has been permitted by the state. The Coal River Wind campaign has focused on asking West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to rescind the mining permits for Coal River Mountain. So far, Governor Manchin has denied the group’s request.

“The Coal River Wind Campaign has been a symbol of hope for the people of the Coal River Valley,” said Lorelei Scarbro, organizer for Coal River Mountain Watch. “My neighbors are excited about the idea of jobs that allow them to produce energy in a way that is sustainable. Coal River Mountain, the last standing mountain in the valley, should remain intact as a symbol for a new day in the Appalachian coalfields.”

With no response from Governor Manchin’s office, residents and environmental groups are now looking to the Obama administration to intervene.

A wind resources assessment and economic study commissioned by Coal River Mountain Watch in 2008 revealed that Coal River Mountain-which has the highest peaks ever slated for mining in the state-has enough wind potential to provide electricity for over 85,000 homes and would create more jobs over the expected life of the turbines than the proposed mountaintop removal mine. The study also stated that the proposed wind farm would help diversify the local economy in an area historically dependent upon temporary coal mining jobs, and would pump $20 million per year in direct local spending during construction and $2 million per year thereafter.

Current plans for mountaintop removal operations would eventually impact 6,600 acres on Coal River Mountain and fill in 18 valleys with the resulting waste and debris. Over 10 square miles of what environmentalists call the most bio-diverse ecosystem in the United States would be affected. Bo Webb, a resident of town of Peach Tree-a community directly downhill from an existing mountaintop removal operation near Coal River Mountain-said, “My community is already being forced to endure silica blasting dust, boulders, mudslides and floods from a mountaintop removal operation on Cherry Pond Mountain. The annihilation of Coal River Mountain will leave us trapped in the middle beneath both mountains of destruction.”

In addition to the economic and environmental concerns, residents are worried about the stability of blasting less than two hundred yards from a coal sludge impoundment. According to by Wheeling Jesuit University-the Brushy Fork impoundment is a Class C dam, in which “failure would cause possible loss of human life.” If the Brushy Fork impoundment were to fail, the first communities in danger would be the towns of Pettus and Whitesville, where residents would have 12-18 minutes to evacuate before they were overtaken by floodwaters and slurry. The emergency evacuation plan, should the dam be breached, calls for notifying residents “personally,” or “by loudspeaker or bullhorn, or other means deemed necessary.”

In 2000, a coal slurry impoundment owned by a Massey subsidiary failed and spilled over 300 million gallons of slurry into the Big Sandy River in Martin County, KY. The EPA called the dam failure the “worst environmental disaster east of the Mississippi.” According to EPA testing, the spill-more than 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez disaster-destroyed destroyed nearly all aquatic life for more than 50 miles downstream of the spill. And in 1972, a 132-million gallon impoundment in Logan County, W.Va., failed, killing 125 people and leaving over 4,000 more homeless.

The permits for mining on Coal River Mountains are owned by Massey Energy, one the largest coal mining companies in central Appalachia. In 2008, Massey paid $20 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the largest settlement to date for violating the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times in seven years.

According to a recent story by Associated Press reporter Vicki Smith, Google Earth has taken interest in the plight of Coal River Mountain and created a video about the Coal River Wind Project to present at the climate talks to be held in Copenhagen in December.

“What kind of message will it send to the international community if this priceless mountain with so much renewable energy potential is currently being destroyed for a decade’s worth of coal?” asked Matt Wasson, Program Director for Appalachian Voices, a regional environmental organization. “It would look a lot more like a continuation of the last administration’s policies, rather than a commitment to a new energy future.”

For more information, please visit and

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Lorelei Scarbro, Coal River Mountain Watch, (304) 854-2182
Matt Wasson, Appalachian Voices, (828) 262-1500
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8 Responses to “ALERT: Blasting Begins on Coal River Mountain”

  1. 1 Ron Floyd Oct 27th, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    What a shame that a few whose hearts are as black as the coal they mine to line their fat swiss bank accounts can dictate the destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlands and wildlife, not to mention whole communities of people who have called the place their home for so long.

    The United States is no longer a democracy. We’re back in feudal dark ages of vicious landLORDS and peasants, Barons and slaves.

    May the name Massey forever be known in the company of history’s other brutal dictators.

  2. 2 Leon Wood Oct 28th, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    After mining has been completed and the reclamation done put up the windmills then you have maximized the resource recovery by utilization of the timber before mining, mining all the coal, then using the are for future power generation. I f you now you have changed the wind patterns then use solar panels. Surface mining our past, present, and will continue to be our future.

  3. 3 Sandra Diaz Oct 29th, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Leon, sorry doesnt work that way, once you reduce the elevation of the mountain, its wind potential is gone, and plus the ground is too unstable to place anything on it. Coal companies talk of reclamation, but less than 3% of mountaintop removal sites are reclaimed and the ones that are have ongoing stability issues.

    And while the mining is going on, the impacts to communities is horrendous, from blasting that shakes and cracks foundations of homes, to floating coal dust and other things like silica (black lug for everyone), to buried head water streams, to a ruined landscape, where locals hunt, fish, gather herbs.

    These people do not live where they mine coal, coal companies mine coal where people live.

    I also encourage to read this open letter to Obama by an impacted resident, Bo Webb:

    All coal, Surface mining or not in Appalachia will only last at the MOST 20 years, even congressman Rahall from WV has acknowledged that. Not much of a future if you ask me.

  4. 4 Robert Menard Oct 29th, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Quit whining. These mining operations are killing people and other living beings. You would act to prevent the killing of your family in your home, wouldn’t you? Then get off the protest ego trip and take some real action to stop these mining companies. The Governments, state and federal, and their agents in the courts and law enforcement, are obviously very much in the pockets of the aristocrats who own the mining companies so quit wasting your time “pleading” with them to correct this horrendous mis-use of our resources. Be tougher than them. Get serious.

  5. 5 greg Oct 29th, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Well said Leon Wood, also you gotta love the statment “what environmentalists call the most bio-diverse ecosystem in the United States” yeah right, any plance anyone wants to build something will allways be

    “what environmentalists call the most bio-diverse ecosystem in the United States”

    I have camped/hunted up on that mountain many times and bio-diverse it is not.

  6. 6 Leon Wood Oct 29th, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Sandra have ever been to any towns in Eastern Ky all these towns have expanded and built on reclaimed mine sites. Hazard, Ky has built extensively on relaimed mine sites. Almost the entire by pass around London, KY has been built on reclaimed mine sites just to name a few. The US can stop utilizing coal if it wants to but we will continue to mine coal and export it to other countries because we will still need steel and and all the other products produced from coal. Nobody has yet came up with a real replacement coal. If you decide today to replace with nuke it will take 35 to 50 years to get enough plants online. Solar and wind are not viable replacements because the US does have enough land area need to produce the amount of energy we require. Surface mining our past, present and will continue to be our future.

  7. 7 Sandra Diaz Oct 30th, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Hey Greg- the areas where mountaintop removal occurs is biodiversity hotspot- this is a map to show those spots in the US and as you can see it is not everywhere.

    And Leon I have been to eastern Kentucky and and yes, there are some places that are reclaimed, but once again, its less than 3%. And there may be some sites that work, but many have issues with stability, like the Sink-Sink prison in Martin County, KY. The land is too unstable so it costs $40 million to stabilize the land and there are still having issues.

    Little reclaimed surface mining land is being developed. Lexington Herald recently did a story on this too:

    At the current rate of development, it would take 100 years to develop all the land that has bee destroyed by mountaintop removal. and a lot isn’t near a lot of infrastructure so you would have to build that as well.

    Improved energy efficiency standards for states, counties, schools, have shown that you can decrease energy usage by 30-50%, which then means less energy needed. And mountaintop removal accounts for less than 5% of the coal we use, so even modest reductions would be helpful. Also, like I said before there is less than 20 years of coal in Appalachia anyway, so surface mining is not our future. Also the effects of mountaintop removal makes other industry even less likely to be attracted to the area, so lets save what we can and make sure the green economy reaches Appalachia.

  8. 8 Sandra Diaz Oct 30th, 2009 at 9:36 am
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About Jesse

Jesse Jenkins is an energy and climate policy analyst, advocate, and blogger. Jesse is the Director of Energy and Climate Policy at the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, California, where he works to develop and advance new energy solutions to power America's future, secure our energy freedom, and halt global warming. He joined Breakthrough in June 2008 and previously directed the Breakthrough Generation fellowship program for young clean energy leaders. Jesse worked previously as a Research and Policy Associate at the Renewable Northwest Project in Portland, OR, helping to advance the development of the Pacific Northwest's abundant renewable energy potential. A prolific author and blogger on clean energy issues, Jesse is the founder and chief editor of WattHead - Energy News and Commentary, a featured writer and advisory board member at the Energy Collective, and a frequent contributor at, Huffington Post, and

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