Blasting Begins on Coal River Mountain

By Julie Johnson

On Oct. 24, Massey Energy began blasting on Coal River Mountain, a ridgeline that has become symbolic in the nationwide campaign to end mountaintop removal coal mining.
This West Virginia mountain is home to the highest peaks ever slated for mountaintop removal in the state. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection has stated that the mining operation on the mountain is “actively moving coal.”

Since 2007, residents of the Coal River Valley have rallied behind plans to replace mountaintop removal operations with a 328-megawatt, utility-scale wind farm on the mountain. Coal River Mountain Watch’s Coal River Wind campaign has focused on asking West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to rescind the mining permits for Coal River Mountain.

Massey Energy owns permits that if completed would strip close to 6,600 acres of the mountain. So far, Gov. Manchin has denied the Coal River Mountain Watch’s request.
According to the Coal Wind campaign, a potential wind farm could “employ over 200 local residents during the 2 year construction phase, and create 40-50 permanent maintenance jobs afterwards.” A study commissioned by the group revealed that wind potential on the mountain would provide electricity for over 85,000 homes and would pump $20 million per year into the economy during construction and $2 million per year thereafter.

“Coal River Mountain, the last standing mountain in the valley, should remain intact as a symbol for a new day in the Appalachian coalfields,” said Lorelei Scarbro, organizer for Coal River Mountain Watch.

The blasting also threatens the Brushy Fork slurry impoundment, an earthen dam holding 8.2 billion gallons of wet toxic coal waste. The impoundment lies within 100 yards from the current blasting site. According to—maintained by Wheeling Jesuit University—the Brushy Fork impoundment is a Class C dam, in which “failure would cause possible loss of human life.” The impoundment is uphill from the communities of Pettus and Whitesville where residents would have 12-18 minutes to evacuate if the dam were to burst.

In 2008, Massey Energy, one of the largest coal mining companies in central Appalachia, paid $20 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the largest settlement to date for violating the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times in seven years.

“My community is already being forced to endure silica blasting dust, boulders, mudslides and floods from a mountaintop removal operation on Cherry Pond Mountain,” said Bo Webb, a resident who lives directly downhill from an existing mountaintop removal operation near Coal River. “The annihilation of Coal River Mountain will leave us trapped in the middle beneath both mountains of destruction.”

Other News From Coal Country

Marsh Fork: The School Board in Raleigh County, W.Va., has asked for funding from the state to move Marsh Fork Elementary School, a facility which sits immediately below a 2.8 billion gallon coal sludge impoundment and a mountaintop removal mining site, and within a few hundred feet of a coal processing plant. Some local residents have been campaigning for years to move the school due to the dangers of the dam breaking and the toxic coal dust that falls on the school.

OSMRE Director: Joe Pizarchik’s nomination for director of the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement was unanimously confirmed in the Senate after being held up for several months. Coalfield citizen groups had opposed his confirmation, stating issues with his leadership as director of the Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Mining and Reclamation.

New Resources— Plundering Appalachia, a coffee table book published by Earth Aware and edited by Tom Butler, shows both the beauty and the destruction of Appalachia through large-format photography. Includes essays from Wendell Berry, Judy Bonds, Denise Giardina, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others.

Still Moving Mountains: The Journey Home— Produced by Aurora Lights, this CD is a sequel to Moving Mountains, and is a combination of music and interviews with residents living with mountaintop removal. It is interactive with the website, an interactive mapping project that combines music, audio, photography and the written word to tell the story of the Coal River Valley, W.Va.

Hazardous or Not?— The EPA is considering delaying the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) rules for regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste because of concerns in the Department of the Interior (DOI). The EPA’s proposal is to consider coal ash hazardous except for when it is reused such as in ingredients for concrete or drywall.

Let’s Learn About Coal— Friends of Coal (FOC) targeted a youthful audience in a recent public relations blitz, handing out a coloring book called “Let’s Learn About Coal” to school children through West Virginia’s “Coal in the Classroom” campaign.

Senator and the Mayfly— “I don’t think so much about mayflies, but I do think about those people [who live downstream]. There will have to be adjustments,” said West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller in a discussion regarding whether increased regulation of mountaintop removal is necessary.

ACCCE Foots The Bill— Congressional investigators uncover internal documents revealing that the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) paid over $7 million in 2009 to the Hawthorn Group, the same company that hired Bonner & Associates, the astroturf lobbying firm that was responsible for forging letters from nonprofit groups to Congress regarding the climate change bill.


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