Photo: Antrim CaskeyDear Mr. President:
I write to you in a moment of urgency.
In your address at MIT last week, you told students that the “Pentagon has declared our dependence on fossil fuels to be a security threat.”
Here in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia, our mountain communities face a security threat that calls for immediate federal intervention.
Coal River Valley is a very narrow valley tucked in between Cherry Pond Mountain and Coal River Mountain. Cherry Pond Mountain has already been blasted into a pile of rock and pulverized to mountain rubble by Massey Energy’s mountaintop removal operations.
Many communities in the Coal River Valley have endured blasting and fallout from silica dust, fly-rock, boulders, mudslides, and floods since Massey began demolishing Cherry River Mountain.
Now Massey — infamous for its mining violations — has begun to clear cut, blast, and launch a new Coal River Mountain mining operation that will wipe out our last intact mountain in this great Appalachian range. It will also devastate our greatest hope for real jobs from wind energy and underground mining, long-term tax revenues, and clean energy.
Abandoned by the state government, we are trapped in this very narrow valley between two life-threatening mountaintop removal operations. Our state government, led by Governor Joe Manchin, refuses to step in and stop this insanity.
We have now reached a true state of emergency in the Coal River Valley.
Massey’s path of destruction has sought to destroy the Coal River Wind Project, which the Council on Environmental Quality has recognized as one of the most hopeful models for a sustainable Appalachia.
In an age of climate change and the hope for a clean energy future, the destruction of Coal River Mountain — and its accompanying human rights and environmental violations — would carry the symbolic importance of destroying Mt. Rushmore or Pike’s Peak in Colorado, where “America the Beautiful” anthem was inspired.
The blasting taking place right now on Coal River Mountain also sets up a catastrophic scenario: Explosions are taking place near the Brushy Fork impoundment, a weakened class “C” coal slurry dam that sits above our communities like a dark cloud. In the case of any breakage, such as what happened in eastern Kentucky less than a decade ago, our communities will have little to no chance of survival.
And yet, our voices have essentially been shut out from the very public process that affects our lives. Absentee coal companies have inflamed the level of intimidation and violence in our valley to a tipping point of potential hate crimes that also require immediate federal action.
On Oct. 13, 2009, the Army Corps of Engineers held a public hearing in Charleston, W.Va. in order to receive citizens’ comments and concerns about the Nationwide permit type 21, which is intended for mining operations that have a minimal effect on the environment and human lives. This hearing was supposed to be about following the law of the land.
Instead, concerned citizens at this hearing were intimidated and assaulted by organized workers and suppliers of the coal industry. Many people were threatened to the point of fearing for their lives and left, never gaining access inside to express their concerns.
Free speech was denied — and continues to be denied — in the current situation. And violent threats and acts of intimation continue to go hand in hand with the dangerous blasting of Coal River Mountain and our communities.
When I enlisted (not drafted) in the Marines for the Vietnam War, I served my country because I love my country and the freedom that it stands for. I felt that same sense of freedom when I first visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and read the inspiring inscription on the wall.
I fight for my community today with that same spirit of love of freedom and democracy.
But freedom and democracy, and protection from security threats, are being denied in Coal River Valley today.
Mr. President, I ask you to step in and halt the terror of mountaintop removal blasting on Coal River Mountain, and call for an immediate investigation of the mining permits, the endangerment of the Brushy Fork impoundment dam, and the impact of the mining operation on our communities, and our watersheds. And I ask you to hold to your bold commitment to clean energy for the nation — including Appalachia — as you stated at MIT last week, and invest in the Coal River Wind project.
At the very least, representatives from the Council on Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Interior must make an immediate fact-finding visit to the Coal River Valley.
Finally, Mr. President, I ask you to have the Department of Justice investigate what happened at the Army Corps hearing in Charleston, W.Va., on Oct. 13 — one of the darkest days in our democracy in the coalfields.
As I write this, Massey Energy is poised to unleash even greater terror upon us by blasting Coal River Mountain to ashes, while our lives hover below in the balance.
As “America the Beautiful,” reminds us, our only hope is for “Thy liberty in law.”
Sincerely, and with great respect,