From the hills of West Virginia
My good friend Peter Slavin just published the most up-to-date article on mountaintop-removal mining out there.
Here’s some information on developing MTR stories:
The Appalachian Coal Field Delegation will be attending the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Conference for the second time this year. The conference runs from April 30-May 11, but Bo Webb learned from experience last year that corporate execs and the bigwigs that matter usually only attend the last week, so this year he and the other delegates will, too. They want to go beyond linking to NGOs with similar interests and goals to form a common language with which to (hopefully) influence U.N. policy. To bring attention to their efforts, the Coal Field Delegation, along with friends and supporters, will host an event in New York. Should attract some pretty big names from what I hear.
This conference comes none too soon, as Massey Energy Co. has just applied for three new mining permits in and around Coal River Mountain, plus an additional 162 acres in the Peachtree and Edwight areas in which it is already mining. News of the second permit appeared in the February 1 edition of the Beckley, W.Va. Register-Herald and struck fear in the hearts of the most fearless anti-MTR activists: Bo Webb and Judy Bonds. The permit would give Massey 2039.89 acres to mine in the Horsecreek, Dry Creek, Sycamore Creek, and Dorothy areas of Coal River Mountain and ties into a 680-acre permit Massey already applied for in the Bee Tree, Horsecreek, and Dorothy areas. In other words, the mountains directly surrounding Bonds’s and Webb’s homes. (Bonds, who’s essentially been forced from her home one time already, can feel the blasting again where she is now.)
What tragic irony it would be if those who have given up everything to fight MTR were forced out of their homes and off their land because of it, too. It seems incomprehensible to someone like me, living in an apartment in New York with no real space — never mind land — to call my own, but can you imagine how dreadful it must be to open the daily newspaper and learn that the fate of your home rests in the hands of a corporation that doesn’t care and a government that doesn’t notice?
I mentioned the Spruce Mine permit in my last post, and the number of people who would be affected by it keeps climbing higher and higher: Sible Rose Wheatley Weekley of Blair, W.Va., died on January 15 without ever learning the outcome of the battle she began almost nine years ago. In 1998, Sibby and her husband James filed the original lawsuit that helped launch the fight against MTR. The original Spruce Mine permit was at the heart of that case, and its legacy in the form of this most recent and no less devastating permit remains a central issue for James Weekley today, especially since the permit threatens both his home in Pigeon Roost Hollow and his efforts to save Blair Mountain, the historical site of the largest armed uprising in American labor history in which miners fought against dangerous conditions, abusive management and the disorganized labor practices that led to both.
To give a brief update on the current Spruce Mine permit’s status, Joe Lovett, hero lawyer from the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, along with Jim Hecker, another maverick environmental advocate from Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, asked Judge Robert Chambers to issue a temporary restraining order to block Arch from further activity. On February 1, after hearing from lawyers on both sides, Chambers agreed that, for now, there would be no more disturbances at the Spruce permit area. And so the lawyers will get to work on their arguments in the coming days and weeks, each party trying to persuade or dissuade Chambers as to whether or not he should include the Spruce case in the ongoing case that the Weekleys began.
As Chambers has yet to come to a decision in the larger lawsuit, it seems like we’ll be waiting for answers for quite a while. But in the business of mining, where so often the coal companies emerge victorious from cases like this one or from the endless round of appeals that follows, no news is good news for residents of Appalachia.