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article imageTrying to save mountain, protesters in W. Virginia arrested

By Stephanie Dearing     Oct 20, 2009 in Environment
Activists continue to fight to save the last mountain in an area that has seen all the other mountains lost to mountain top removal, the most efficient and inexpensive way to mine coal.
"Several dozen" protesters gathered in front of Governor Joe Manchin's offices in West Virginia Monday to protest the devastation of the Coal River mountains, part of the Appalachian chain. The sit-in took place in the reception area, and seven people were arrested when they refused to leave at 5 pm. They were protesting Massey Energy Company's plans to strip Coal River Mountain of its coal using the mountain top removal method. Protesters delivered a letter to Governor Manchin, asking him to save the mountain, which is the last remaining mountain in the Coal River Valley area. The activists have proposed building a wind farm on Coal River Mountain. Massey Energy, the company seeking to strip mine the coal in the mountain, has already cleared the trees from the mountain top. The arrested activists had vowed to stay "... until Manchin moves to halt MTR on Coal River Mountain or they are forcibly removed."
Monday's protest was not the first one this year. Actress Daryl Hannah was arrested for participating in a protest against the mountain-top destruction in July.
The destructiveness of the practice has criticized for years by environmentalists and scientists. However, human health and safety has also become a concern because of the all-too-regular accidental releases of coal waste sludge. A report released in January revealed that environmental protection officials in West Virginia did not ensure "proper safety zones," and did not conduct sufficient or frequent enough assessments to ensure coal waste impoundments were safe. A sludge impoundment in Tennessee failed in December 2008, polluting approximately 300 acres with about 1 billion gallons of sludge.
In June the Obama government announced measures intended to protect the environment in the coal mining regions in a press release. The release said "Obama Administration officials announced today that they are taking unprecedented steps to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop coal mining in the six Appalachian states of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia through a coordinated approach between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of the Interior (DOI) and Army Corps of Engineers."
Massey Energy does not have a good record of preventing coal sludge spills, having at least 25 reported spills since 1994, including three in the Coal River area. In 2005, a Massey-owned impoundment in the Coal River area failed and five miles of streams were contaminated by sludge.
The Coal River area.
Mountain top removal mining.
In September, the EPA announced it had identified 79 mining applications for the Appalachian area that would be further scrutinized because the proposed mines risk contaminating the water. The review, said the EPA in a Q&A sheet, "... does not prohibit any project, nor does it reflect a judgment about the likelihood that a project will or will not be authorized."
Mountain top removal mining, as the practice is known, has been used since the late 1960s, but has really only come into its own in the past ten years. The practice is favoured by mining companies because of its lower costs. The tops of the mountains are blasted with explosives to expose the coal, which is then dug out. The unneeded soil is moved into valleys. Streams are often buried. Prior to blasting the mountain top, trees are cut down and the wood is either sold or burned. When the resource extraction is completed, the "site" is supposed to be "rehabilitated." The mountain tops are never what they were before they were mined.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has been protesting the practice for years. The scientists state that Bush opened the door to the devastating procedure, and add "... scientists working for various federal agencies have documented a wide range of enormously destructive environmental impacts from this mining technique. More than 7 percent of Appalachian forests have been cut down and more than 1,200 miles of streams across the region have been buried or polluted between 1985 and 2001.10 According to the federal government’s scientific analysis, mountaintop removal mining, if it continues unabated, will cause a projected loss of more than 1.4 million acres by the end of the next decade—an area the size of Delaware—with a severe impact on fish, wildlife, and bird species, not to mention a devastating effect on many neighboring communities."
Massey Energy says that it is the largest coal producer in the Appalachian region.
Coal is the largest source of fuel in America.
More about Virginia coal mining, Environmental activism, Governor joe manchin, Massey energy company, Mountain top removal
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