MAC: Mines and Communities

US court backs groups defending historic site from coal mining

Published by MAC on 2014-08-27
Source: Reuters

The Blair Mountain coal field in West Virginia was the epicentre of what's been called "the largest armed labour conflict in the nation's history".

In 1921, around 10,000 miners trying to establish a union were attacked by a private army of some 3,000 men in a battle which lasted several weeks. Both sides were armed, and one of the mine owners used planes to drop bombs on the striking workers.

Up to 100 workers were reported killed and up to 30 men employed by the companies.

Now, a US Appeals court has sided with those who have campaigned  to prevent this historic mining site from being re-opened  to mining.

It's  a notable victory.

Not only did America's largest mining union, the USWA, join with environmentalists (notably the Sierra Club) in opposing the potential destruction of the site.

The Appeals Court also asserted that descendants of the martyred mineworkers would themselves be "harmed", were the site impacted by new mines.

What if this principle were applied to other mines across the world which have also seen historic labour battles against mining companies (such as Waihi in Aotearo/New Zealand, in Australia, South Africa, parts of Latin America, and throughout north American itself)?

Now, there's a thought...


U.S. court rules for groups defending historic site from coal mining

By Mica Rosenberg


26 August 2014

A U.S. appeals court ruled Tuesday in favor of environmental groups fighting to protect the site of a historic 1920s-era labor battle between miners and companies in West Virginia from being destroyed by modern-day coal mining.

The Sierra Club and a coalition of local historical associations sued the government for removing the Blair Mountain Battlefield in southern West Virginia from the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, a move the group said would open up the area to large-scale surface mining.

The mountain was the scene of a five-day clash in September 1921 between more than 5,000 West Virginia coal miners and around 3,000 men backed by the coal companies, the largest armed labor conflict in the nation's history. President Warren Harding had to send in federal troops to quell the violence.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned a lower court's 2012 ruling throwing out the Sierra Club's claim against the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service.

The appeals court found the groups had a right to challenge the government's delisting of the site since their members - including descendants of veterans who fought in the battle - would be harmed if it is altered by mining.

The Department of Justice, which represented the government in the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"The site is considered hallowed ground by many folks in the labor movement and folks who are involved in coal mining in West Virginia," said Peter Morgan, a Sierra Club attorney.

Several coal companies own permits to the land but are not currently mining there, the ruling said. The coal companies pushed for the site, which is on privately owned land, to be delisted from the Register because of their interest in one day developing the coal resources there, the opinion said.

"The companies did not act as disinterested bystanders in connection with the Battlefield's nomination for inclusion in the Register," the opinion written by D.C. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan said.

West Virginia is the country's second-largest coal producer after Wyoming. Environmentalists criticize the industry for using a mining technique they term "mountain-top removal" that requires clear-cutting large swaths of land.

The West Virginia Coal Association, which represents mining interests in the state, wrote a friend of the court brief supporting the government in the case.

"Our overriding concern is a third-party group like the Sierra Club's only interest is putting up another roadblock to mining coal," said Jason Bostic, the association's vice president.

The United Mine Workers of America submitted a friend of the court brief supporting the environmentalists in the case.

The case is Sierra Club, et al. v. Sally Jewell, The U.S. Department Of Interior, et al. in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, No. 12-5383

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Lisa Shumaker)

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