UPDATE: Every American–including the Army Corps of Engineers–must watch this powerful new 20-minute film by Chad Stevens on the real costs and consequences of mountaintop removal mining: Leveling Appalachia: The Legacy of Mountaintop Removal Mining Now, the good news: On behalf of their children’s future, coalfield residents and miners calmly came together in the Coal River Valley last night, as the Raleigh County School Board announced its intention to formally request funds for a new Marsh Elementary School, which currently sits near a toxic coal dust silo and downslope of a 2.8 billion coal sludge impoundment and mountaintop removal operation.

“The main agenda item at last night’s Raleigh County School Board hearing was one that has been long awaited,” said Bo Webb, a local resident and Vietnam veteran. “Five years ago a campaign led by a few local concerned citizens began with the goal of obtaining a new school for the children and staff of Marsh Fork Elementary. Thanks to so many people this campaign grew into a movement that spread across America. Last night was the culmination of thousands of people’s support from across our great land as the school board voted to formally request funds to construct a new school.”

If only Big Coal and their supporters could have put the future of the region’s children first at another meeting last night. Despite recent studies that prove that mountaintop removal and coal mining have devastated the Appalachian economies and health, cost the coal states more in services than tax revenues, and holds back sustainable development for the future, Big Coal continues to threaten coal mining communities with impending doom if they consider any alternatives.

While their profits continue to soar amid job losses, Big Coal let loose the hounds of chaos and hatred at last night’s Army Corps of Engineers public hearing in West Virginia on mountaintop removal permits.

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In the process, Big Coal Gone Wild also raised a new question: Given their increasingly inflammatory and distorted propaganda, should certain Big Coal instigators be investigated by the Department of Justice and FBI for sowing the seeds of potential hate crimes?

It begs the question: What’s it going to take to get the Obama administration and West Virginia state officials to publicly denounced the violent rhetoric by Big Coal hacks and mountaintop removal operators?

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Busing in a huge, nearly uncontrollable gathering in West Virginia, (the hearings in Kentucky Tennessee were raucous, though without problems), Big Coal Gone Wild did its best to turn these important Army Corps of Engineers public hearings on the specifics of following the laws for mountaintop removal permits into a shouting match and general mayhem. On the heels of a violent summer in the coalfields, last night’s shouting match capped a week of bizarre but dangerous comments by Big Coal operators. Consider these nuggets from this week:

Big Coal supporters called the EPA a “modern day Gestapo” Big Coal supporters referred to nonviolent Gandhian protesters as suicide bombers Big Coal is running ads of besieged coalfield residents as masked “bandits” Big Coal supporters held a sign that declared, “hang a tree hugger, save a miner,” in a last week’s Wall Street Journal article Here’s a report on last night’s hearing in Charleston, West Virginia, from Chuck Nelson, a retired coal miner in West Virginia:

There were about ten of us, who were the last group leaving from inside. We were waiting to give our comments, when word was brought back in, what was happening outside. As we talked with each of our group inside, things just kept getting more crazy. We decided to leave then as a group, to proceed to make our departure. Insults were hurled at as we were leaving., with a bunch of thugs following. Once in the lobby, I went directly to a Charleston city officer, and requested an escort to our vehicles, with an angry group outside the doors. The officer told me, that we should have known, what was going to happen when we came there. He did escort us to the front doors, and told Ben, as we were leaving, you are on your own. We made our way outside, only to be met with more insults, that followed us practically all the way to our vehicles. We made calls on our phones, and tried to make sure, everyone was all right. I think everyone finally did. I too, wondered where the state troopers were, not one was ever visible. I wonder, how in the world can the Army Corp make a decision on an important permit, when they can’t even conduct a proper, and peaceful hearing.

Vernon Haltom, from the Coal River Mountain Watch nonprofit, added:

I went to the Charleston, WV, hearing hosted by the US Army Corps of Engineers, but was unable to get in and give comments because the place was full. This was after enduring a gauntlet of coal cult thugs hurling every insult imaginable at me and the people who came with me to see and listen. Although a few other people and I were in line and had filled out the registration forms to give comments, the Charleston police made us go out of the building where we were surrounded by more thugs pushing against us, threatening our lives, and again hurling insults. Our group included an eighty-year-old woman enduring 300-pound thugs screaming obscenities within three feet of her ears. After 15 minutes or so of this shameful display, the Charleston police required us to leave. Because it was easier to control a group of 6 or 7 peaceful people than a mob of hundreds of violence prone thugs, and because the police did not want any of us or the police to get hurt, they escorted us off the premises. Essentially, police inability to control the mob resulted in our inability to give verbal comments. While the building was full, we were prepared to enter once a few people left, but the police removed us from our place in line and removed us from the premises while the insult-hurlers were allowed to stay.

Our friends inside the hearing were able to give comments, but were drowned out by the mob. When they complained to the hearing moderators, they were told the clock was ticking. When they left, the police refused to escort the last small group to their vehicles, forcing them to run the gauntlet without protection. The police said, “You all knew what you were getting into; you’re on your own,” or a similar reply when asked for escort to cars. The TV news channels didn’t show this side of the night, and no one from the pro-mountain side appeared on TV. Instead, the TV news interviewed coal supporters and implied there was no one from our side giving testimony. From one of the hearings, I don’t know which one, one of the Corps
of Engineers people said, “This is democracy working,” or something like that. This was not democracy working. It was a mob intimidating both the Charleston police and the US Army, as well as the peaceful citizens who came to give comments to protect their homes, live, and communities.

At the Pikeville, Kentucky meeting, coal miner Carl Shoupe reported:

As a third generation underground coal miner who is totally disabled from a roof fall accident, who has watched his father, grandfather, and father-in-law die from the dreadful disease of Black Lung, the Army Corps meeting was status quo. It is a proven fact the coal industry is historically anti-regulation and against any law that creates safety for coal miners or environmental issues that would cost them in terms of money. No where did the elected politicians or coal owners speak about cleaning up the environmental impact of coal. They only spoke about the economics or frankly, “how much money it would cost to mine the coal correctly.”

You’re never going to make everyone happy, but if we are going to continue our consumptive practices, we need to make some decisions. Coal has been very much a part of my past, but in the last ten years (mountain top removal of coal) has done more damage to the environment than deep coal mining did in the previous 100 yrs. If those young coal miners who climbed on those buses and received their days pay only knew what “participatory democracy” was, they would be calling the United Mine Workers Labor Union, sign a union card, and after signing a union card get rid of every politician that spoke or even was there last night in Pikeville. History remembers people who embrace change, not those who resist it.

Eastern Kentucky coalfield resident Mickey McCoy reported:

“God bless the coal and miners and to Hell with the tree huggers!” shouted an elected official from an Eastern Kentucky coal producing county while addressing an estimated 3800 people, mostly mine workers, their families and related industry representatives, in attendance at the Army Corps public hearing in Pikeville, Kentucky last night. By the time the meeting wound down sometime after midnight earlier cat calls, insults and bursts of applause had ended and only a couple of hundred folk were in attendance to hear the last of those giving testimony. Scores began to file out once the Corps started receive thanks at the microphones from members of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and other environmentally minded individuals who praised the possible elimination of the rubber-stamping of mining permits under NWP21.

As McCoy told a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C. last month: It’s time to end the bombing of Appalachia and bring peace and justice to the coalfields: