MAC: Mines and Communities

Mountaintop Removal Protests Planned In Four States

Published by MAC on 2005-05-22
Source: Associated Press

Mountaintop removal protests planned in four states

Associated Press

May 22, 2005

Charleston, W.Va. -- A group opposed to mountaintop removal mining is looking for volunteer protesters who are lawyers, writers, photographers, artists and "science geeks" to gather at a training camp Tuesday to prepare for Mountain Justice Summer.

About 100 people are expected to attend the weeklong training at the Appalachian South Folk Life Center near Pipestem State Park, said Dave Cooper, a Mountain Justice Summer member from Lexington, Ky. Volunteers will take mandatory classes in nonviolence and de-escalation, security, dealing with threats and Appalachian mountain culture.

Hundreds of people from across the country are expected to participate in "actions" this summer in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and southwestern Virginia. Members hope to have at least 40 full-time volunteers working on events from June through August, said Chris Irwin, a law student in Knoxville, Tenn.

Tactics will include rallies, nonviolent civil disobedience like chaining people to coal company gates, "listening projects" involving interviewing residents in coal communities, water and plant surveys, public relations and lobbying, monitoring coal mining permits and regulatory meetings, and helping people affected by mountaintop removal mining.

The group's Web site says its goals are to raise awareness of mountaintop removal mining; escalate resistance to it; build support, unify and strengthen regional groups fighting surface mining; and encourage conservation and efficiency, solar and wind energy as alternatives to coal.

Much of the work in West Virginia will focus on educating and informing people about mining.

In mountaintop removal, coal operators blast off entire hilltops to uncover coal seams. Leftover rock and dirt is deposited into nearby valleys, burying streams.

"I am finding out here along the Coal River people don't even know what mountaintop removal is," said Bo Webb of Coal River Mountain Watch in Whitesville, Boone County. "They seem to want to bury their heads in the coal dust."

At least one coal company is concerned enough about the environmentalists' plans to warn all its employees about how to behave when faced with protesters.

St. Louis-based Arch Coal has sent a form letter for all its site general managers to pass on to employees telling them to be careful, said John Snider, the company's vice president for external affairs, who is based in Charleston.

If people chain themselves to company gates or property, employees should leave them alone and call the police, Snider said. Employees should not touch protesters or talk to them.

"I would say if they are on private property, that would be civil disobedience, which is violence. It's a form of it," Snider said. "We are not a violent company. We don't want anyone hurt, either protesters or our people.

"This letter was not to be antagonistic. It was meant to inform our employees, 'Hey guys, you need to be careful this summer,'" Snider said.

Snider said the company considers Mountain Justice Summer a part of the Earth First movement and expects protesters to try to use monkey wrenches and other items to destroy coal mining equipment.

Mountain Justice Summer members say they plan no property destruction or violence of any kind. Although some Earth First members will be participating in Mountain Justice Summer activities, the groups are not otherwise affiliated, Cooper said.

College students, members of Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and similar groups in Tennessee and Virginia will be participating, Cooper said.

Mountain Justice Summer members are opposed to all forms of strip mining, especially mountaintop removal, because they say it destroys ecosystems and watersheds.

Also, the mountains are part of the southern Appalachian culture, and by destroying mountains, coal companies are destroying a culture, Irwin said.

"What they are betting on is silence," Irwin said. "We want to get the word out."

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