Voices From the Mountains

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My name is Carl “Pete” Ramey. I am 75 years old. I have worked in the coal industry for 37 years from 1949 until retirement in 1985. All of my financial and health benefits have been provided by the coal industry. I have no desire to damage the coal industry. However, I do not want to be damaged by the coal industry.
Due to my fear for the safety and lives of my family, I was forced to move from my home in Roda, Virginia, where I resided for 30 years. Not everyone can move away from the strip mining operations.

Citizens of the coal camps have lived in fear of the blasting that has bombarded our homes with fly rock, flooding, dust and noise. Open silos and thousands of tons of stockpile coal are dumped in different places in our communities, causing a big problem with coal dust. There is an open silo and haul road within about 1000 feet of Appalachia Elementary School. In the past, I have passed the playground at the school and you could barely see the children for all of the dust. I have black lung disease from the years that I worked in a mine, but working there was my choice. Our children don’t have a choice when they have to breathe coal dust at their schools.

For four years, I have tried to get the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) to give the people who live in the coal camps of the mountains of southwest Virginia protection from surface mining. I asked the DMME for informal and formal hearings (according to their guidelines) on three different surface mine permits within 400 feet of our homes on three sides. Because of my complaints about what was happening to our homes and communities, the coal industry sued me and I was convicted of acting “in bad faith” and harassing and embarrassing the landowners and the coal company. I feel that many people around here are afraid now to express their concern because of the lawsuit that was filed against me.

Two spokespeople from the DMME showed their concern about the safety for the citizens with remarks like, “Citizens will get frustrated because their homes are shaken or slightly damaged.” And when two families between the towns of Coeburn and St. Paul had to be relocated, the remark was made, “It is not a particularly unusual situation.”

Then came August 20, 2004, when Jeremy Davidson, a three-year old boy asleep in his bed, was killed when a boulder was pushed from a strip mine above his home. This tragedy was based upon the cumulative failure of the state of Virginia to take any action upon at least 48 complaints that came from not only the residents of the Inman community, but from other communities such as Roda. A huge gamble was being taken that no one would suffer injury and the Davidson family was the loser in a gamble they had no control over. Other citizens of these communities have not suffered the death of a loved one, but daily they are tormented by the dust, noise and blasting of the mining operation.

Now, the coal companies and the DMME want to change the laws and regulations governing coal mining without going into detail about what laws they want to change. In my opinion, this is just a smokescreen. They have not even enforced the laws they already have. We do not need to tinker around the edges of current surface mining laws; we need to overhaul the whole system. The people and the coal mines need to coexist. If the Federal Office of Surface Mining is not concerned about the environment or people’s health and safety, they should declare the homes of the people being threatened by surface mining as eminent domain or put a moratorium on mountaintop removal or so-called “contour mining” until an agency can be formed to protect the people.

I am a patriotic American and I don’t believe it is wrong to say publicly that we shouldn’t sacrifice our homes, health, safety and right to free speech for the coal industry, the economy, or anything else.

Pete Ramey is a retired coal miner, a veteran, and a recipient of the World War II victory medal. He serves as president of his local hospice group, vice-president of the local Lion’s Club, and he is on the Board of Directors of the Wise County Habitat for Humanity.

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