Big Coal Wins Latest Battle to Blast Historic Blair Mountain

Posted by Matt Wasson | October 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm


Is nothing sacred to coal companies in Appalachia?

March on Blair Mountain

In a jaw-dropping display of contempt and disregard for the communities and landscapes where they mine coal, three coal companies back in 2009 challenged the listing of West Virginia’s Blair Mountain on the National Register of Historic Places. The companies, including mining behemoths Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal, opposed the listing of Blair Mountain as a historic site because it could interfere with their plans to conduct mountaintop removal mining operations on the Spruce Fork Ridge battlefield, site of the “largest organized armed uprising in American labor history,” and the most important historic landmark in Central Appalachia.

The 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain was the culmination of a three-year struggle to unionize the coal mines of southern West Virginia and ended only when federal troops intervened on behalf of anti-union coal companies. There are few sites as significant as Blair Mountain that commemorate the brave men and women who laid down their lives for a movement that has brought Americans everything from the weekend to child labor laws to the largest and most prosperous middle class the world has ever seen.

The battlefield on Blair Mountain was listed as a national historic landmark in 2009, but under pressure from coal companies, the West Virginia Historic Preservation Officer reversed that decision several months later. Last Week, a federal judge threw out an appeal by a coalition of environmental and historic preservation organizations led by the Sierra Club that sought to restore the historic designation.

Given the national importance of the Blair Mountain battlefield, why did the judge side with the coal companies? It turns out, the ruling had nothing to do with whether or not Blair Mountain deserves designation as a historic landmark. Even though the “factual background” of the case raised big questions about the evidence used to justify the de-listing of Blair Mountain, the judge denied the plaintiffs legal standing to sue on the grounds that any injury (i.e., destruction of the battlefield) resulting from that decision was “purely conjectural.” Heck, who could predict whether Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal will actually decide to seek new permits or make use of their existing ones to blast Blair Mountain into smithereens in order to make a few million bucks for their shareholders?

While there’s little value in non-lawyers critiquing a judge’s decision, the important thing for the rest of us is to ensure that Blair Mountain does not get blasted off the map – a goal that could be accomplished by a number of other means. Given the assertion of the judge that Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources could choose not to use their permits to blast away the mountain, one solution might be to convince those companies to do the right thing. I would encourage anyone who thinks they have leverage to convince the CEOs of these companies to preserve Blair Mountain to give it a shot, and do it soon.

But for my part, I hold out little hope for that solution. While blasting apart Blair Mountain for a few million tons of coal might be the moral equivalent of developing the battlefield at Gettysburg into a massive toxic waste dump, this episode demonstrates once again that big coal companies value the moral high ground about as much as they value the high peaks, ridges and headwater valleys of Appalachia. Which is to say, their “values” appear to go no further than the numbers after the dollar signs in their quarterly profit-and-loss statements.

The other, more likely scenario would be for Americans to convince the President and his administration to definitively protect the Blair Mountain battlefield through one of a number of tools at their disposal. Those tools include using the Antiquities Act to designate Blair Mountain as a national monument, directing the National Park Service to revisit its questionable decision to de-list the the site as a historic landmark, designate the mountain as “Lands Unsuitable for Mining” under the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act… there are any number of routes the Administration might take to prevent the destruction of Blair Mountain if it feels compelled to do so.

That’s where you come in. The bottom line is that protecting this invaluable and irreplaceable landmark is well within the administration’s power, and the President is accountable to you. So please, take this opportunity to tell the President how important it is to you that Blair Mountain be protected and demand his agencies use every means at their disposal to ensure it is not blasted off the map.

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16 Responses

  1. Deb says:

    drilling can be elsewhere. Historical landmarks do not need to be disturbed. This is mindless attack on peoples’ right to history in our country. Oil should not run this country.

  2. Mr Edward Armm says:

    I am a veteran and I vote!

  3. Rita W Clarke says:

    “But it’s just Blair Mountain! Who really cares about that mountain?” WE DO! We must! ONE mountain – is it all that important really against the need for cheap energy sources and shareholders dividends? YES. And it’s THAT important because this scouring of the fragile, life-giving remaining wilderness for coal has to be stopped before there are no more mountains – not ONE. Not one mountain. Not one! Let’s stop it now – at this ONE! It has to stop now. It has to stop while Blair Mountain remains.

  4. rodema ashby says:

    We must protect Blair mountain, more of a monument to WE THE PEOPLE than marble temples. This is sacred ground soaked with the blood of true american patriots, a beacon of light to all those still engaged in the struggle for justice for those who labor for themselves and their families.
    President Obama, we cannot move forward if we let dirty coal villlians destroy our history, literally blowing the tops off our beloved landscape to poison us and our natural world now, while they try to whitewash over their evil past with lying slogans like CLEAN COAL. Be our president, and protect our real landmarks.
    respectfully,
    rodema ashby
    american citizen

  5. Lascinda Goetschius says:

    Don’t destroy any of our Historuical Parks. We must preserve our history of our country for future generations.

  6. Alison Lake says:

    We need to invest in better energy options for our future and stop destroying our planet one mountaintop at a time.

  7. William Leavy says:

    I respectfully urge you, Mr. President, to protect BLAIR MOUNTAIN in the Appalachians. Don’t let it be destroyed for short-term gain.

  8. Drilling belongs NOWHERE. It is time to stop raping and pillaging Mother Earth. She is sacred. Her animals are sacred. All her children are sacred. We can and MUST develop clean, cheap energy for all. Look to the tides…the great untapped source of energy.

  9. Jan Boudart says:

    So this was a battle of the working class against the coal bosses? 10,000 armed union members against 3000 lawmen and strike breakers. Eventually the U.S. army was sent in. It was a precursor to the Ludlow Massacre. Anybody want to guess why the coal company doesn’t mind killing this story?

  10. MR. HARMER WEICHEL says:

    CONCENTRATE OUR RESOURCES ON DEVELOPING ALTERNATE ENERGY AS WE DID TO GET THE MOON AND STOP DESTROYING OUR MTS AND OUR LANDS FOR COAL AND OIL!

  11. deborah l. brandt says:

    stop blowing up mountains!!! pretty soon the world’s going to blow up you!

  12. Kyle says:

    DO NOT let the Big Coal companies dictate what happens to the U.S. citizens environment and historical monuments. WE THE PEOPLE have the power to stop this destructive practice of mountaintop removal.

  13. Jane Davidson says:

    They have no conscience.

  14. Charles Williams says:

    Please save Blair mountain.

  15. Linda Marshall says:

    May God have mercy on us….

  16. [...] at the coal seams underneath, leaving a wasteland in its place. This is becoming more likely as a recent court decision struck down another attempt to get the Blair Mountain battlefield site preserved as a national [...]

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