Tennessee Coal Road Blocked to Protest Mountaintop Removal MiningPublished by MAC on 2005-08-15
Tennessee Coal Road Blocked to Protest Mountaintop Removal Mining
August 15, 2005
Photos from: http://www.mountainjusticesummer.org
Environmental News Service (ENS)
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee - Nine people have been arrested in the first direct action protest against mountaintop removal mining ever held in the United States. Before dawn this morning protesters blockaded a road to National Coal's strip mine in Campbell County, Tennessee to halt the destruction of Zeb Mountain.
Mountaintop mining practices involve removing the tops and sides off mountains with explosives and heavy equipment to access thin seams of coal. Millions of tons of waste rock, dirt, and vegetation are dumped into valleys and streams below, destroying the ecosystem and disrupting nearby communities.
Activists affiliated with MountainJusticeSummer.org and Katuah Earth First! blocked the road to the mine by removing the wheels from one of their cars. Two people locked themselves to the vehicle with lockboxes imbedded in cement pillars. Other activists put up a tripod between the car and the company's gate and another activist suspended himself from the tripod. "Road Closed signs were erected and flares shot up into the sky announcing their presence. Before dawn activists set up this blockade across the road to Zeb Mountain in northern Tennessee. The car reads "No MTR, Our Mountains," and the sign in front of the tripod reads "We Won't Stop Until You Do."
"We are reclaiming Appalachia. We are calling on Governor [Phil] Bredesen to do the same by enforcing Tennessee's water quality laws and banning mountain top mining," said Mere Burton, perched on the tripod on the Zeb Mountain road. Workers in five National Coal company trucks arrived at dawn and threatened the activists. A security guard called police, who arrived at 6 am.
Police gave a five minute warning before the six officers began arresting protestors, and most of the activists moved to nearby public land to monitor the situation. There they engaged in "postive dialogue" with 40 to 50 coal workers who had arrived on the scene. One man on the coal company side attemped to ram the locked down activists with his car then withdrew when half a dozen other activists rushed in to block him. He later participated in attacking activists while police watched, an activist spokesperson said.
By 9 am, an extraction team arrived to remove protesters and dismantle the blockade. The nine people arrested were taken to jail in the town of Caryville, about 40 miles northwest of Knoxville.
From inside the Caryville jail, an activists locked down to the car at the front gate said police officers injured her and several other activists during the arrests.
"The car was moved to the side of the road while I was still attached, smashing the lockboxes imbedded in cement pillars against my arms - I have bruises all over my arms," said Sarah Shapero. "Cars then drove past me, coming within six inches of my body as I was still locked down to the car. One officer stood behind me and others stood apart joking."
"The police endangered Ian Burton by pushing the 30-foot-high tripod over while he was locked in it and it fell on his knee, injuring him," she said from within the jail.
"Daniel Lee was repeatedly kicked in the stomach while supporting Ian Burton. Pain compliance holds were used on Brian Wallin while he was locked to the blockade," she said. The police allowed the mine owner full access to the locked-down activists, including permitting him to dismantle the doors and cut the car apart, said Shapero.
Executives of the National Coal company did not return several calls for comment on the incident and on their mining practices. On the National Coal website the company's General Counsel and Environmental Director Bill Johnston states, "National Coal follows mining regulations set forth by the state and federal government and does it in a way that is as environmentally friendly as possible."
"Our environmental objective is to develop trust through performance. At National Coal, we strive to operate safe and environmentally responsible mines utilizing the resources available while protecting the land and our wildlife," Johnston states.
The activists said they are citizens using their bodies to create a giant "no blast" zone across the mountain. "These drastic tactics are being used because strip mining companies are not allowed to use explosives when unauthorized people are nearby," they said in a statement.
"Coal companies bend and break laws in order to blow apart Tennessee's mountain headwaters. Since regulatory agencies refuse to protect our mountains, non-violent citizen intervention has become necessary," said Maria Johnson of Kingsport, Tennessee, a city about 80 miles to the north. "We stand for the preservation of the mountains, water, forests, and communities of Appalachia," she said. Mountain Justice Summer (MJS) has joined with other conservation groups in rallies to bring their concerns to the attention of legislators. On July 17, MJS and The Friends of the Mountains rallied at the West Virginia State Legislature in Charleston, saying, "We believe mountaintop removal is an illegal and immoral form of coal-mining that is destroying the culture and environment of Southern West Virginia and other parts of the Appalachians. We demand that our kids futures be protected. We demand an end mountaintop removal!"
But rallies and other peaceful demonstrations have not resulted in a stop to the mining practice, bringing some Appalachian residents to the conclusion that only more direct action will be effective.
"These mountains are our homes, and they are being stolen and destroyed by companies like National Coal and this must be stopped. To put my body between the mountain and the companies' machines may be the only way to stop them," said Nable Wallin of Asheville, North Carolina, about 150 miles to the southeast.
Environmental groups have sued coal companies and federal agencies to force an end to mountain top removal mining with little success. While they sometimes win court rulings, federal agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to grant mountain top removal permits regardless.
For more information see:
Army Corps Faces Motion of Contempt Over Valley Fills at: http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/dec2004/2004-12-07-10.asp
View the Bush administration's policy on mountain top removal mining at: http://www.earthjustice.org/policy/rider/display.html?ID=14