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Coal Mountain

This story was published July 8, 2005, during an internship at Richmond.com.

About 100 people protesting Massey Energy ‘s use of strip mines in the Appalachian mountains marched from Monroe Park to Massey’s headquarters Friday.

The march was organized by Mountain Justice Summer , a non-violent, grassroots campaign. Larry Gibson , a long-time environmental activist from West Virginia, explained, “We’re about people, and their lives and their homes… Mountain Justice Summer is about making a positive statement.”

The goal of the rally was to encourage Massey to abandon strip mining and especially the practice of Mountain Top Removal (MTR) mining. MTR, which is jokingly referred to as Mountain Top Decapitation, involves scraping away the top layers of ridges and mountains until the peak forms a flat surface. The soil, vegetation and rock that have been scraped off are then deposited in nearby valleys. Due to coal’s chemical makeup – carbon, nitrogen and sulfur are its main components – when it is exposed to water and air, sulfuric acid seeps into surrounding water sources. Combined with hazardous flooding problems and sediment erosion due to the area’s new topography, the acid can easily affect the water supply of nearby towns and cities, making it difficult for native plants and animals to continue thriving after mining has occurred.

However, MTR is the most efficient, most cost-effective form of surface mining available. The risk to miners and other workers is vastly lower than underground mining and it takes less time to extract the coal. A statement on the Massey Energy website says, “Massey Energy takes very seriously its responsibility to protect, restore and reclaim land and communities where it operates… we are focused on improving the lands impacted by mining-related activities.” One example of Massey’s continued involvement is in Mingo County , W.V.; fifty-five acres of the flattened landscape were set aside to form a dirt racetrack.

In the last two months, 20 coalfield residents and supporters of Mountain Justice Summer have been arrested. Said Julia Bonds , a protester and participant in the Coal River Mountain Watch , “Our goal is to educate America that there is no such thing as clean coal. Coal must be mined responsibly and burned responsibly. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it and we want to educate America about the right way.”

Bonds and other protesters suggest that solar powered sun panels as a clean, energy-efficient alternative to fossil fuels. Indeed, a yellow diesel Mercedes and the amplification system at the protest were both fueled by already-used vegetable cooking oil.

Carrying signs that read “Honk if you love mountains,” the group gathered under the windows of the Massey Energy headquarters with cries of “Save Marsh Fork!” Marsh Fork Elementary School , in Sundial, W.V., rests at the base of a mountain which has been selected for MTR mining. Along with the mining paraphernalia, a coal preparation plant and sludge pond have been established. The protest group presented a list of demands to Massey officials that included shutting down the prep plant, ceasing all MTR mining above the Marsh Fork Elementary School, abandoning plans for a second coal silo directly adjacent to the school and that the Marsh Fork school be cleaned up or relocated.

Today’s protest is part of an international day of communication between community groups and corporations which coincides with the G8 summit meetings in Scotland. For more information, visit www.mountainjusticesummer.org and www.masseyenergy.com .

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