Front Porch Blog

Activists Stand Up to Massey on Coal River Mountain

Mountain Justice Photo

Yesterday, activists with Climate Ground Zero and Mountain Justice locked themselves to a piece of mining equipment called a highwall miner on Coal River Mountain at Massey Energy’s Bee Tree Surface Mine. Colin Flood and Katie Huszcza locked themselves to the machine in order to raise awareness of the threats Massey is posing on the local community and the region’s ecology.

The activists are also calling attention to the fact that detonating earth-shattering explosives a short distance from Massey’s immense earthen Brushy Fork Impoundment—the largest lake of coal sludge in the Western Hemisphere – is ill-advised, to say the least.

Massey, of course, is the company that owned the Upper Big Branch mine where 29 miners tragically lost their lives in April. Going back 10 years, 52 miners have died in Massey mines. Making the argument that the company shows a remarkable level of disregard for the welfare of miners, communities and ecologies could hardly be easier. In 2009, Massey was charged with $12.9 million in proposed fines for safety violations. In 2008, the EPA fined Massey $20 million for 4,500 violations of the Clean Water Act; the largest fine in the history of the law. In 2010, four environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the company citing evidence that, unbelievably, Massey’s Clean Water Act violations had, increased in frequency since its record 2008 fine.

Particularly relevant, in October of 2000, a Massey owned sludge impoundment in Martin County Kentucky failed and leaked more than 300 million gallons of sludge, killing 1.6 million fish and contaminating over 27,000 people’s water.

If the “Level C” rated Brushy Fork impoundment fails, Massey itself estimates that at least 998 people will lose their lives. Level C ratings are given to dams that have “specific problems that could lead to failure.”

Compounding concerned residents frustration is the understanding that Coal River Mountain has wind resources at the highest “Class 7” rating. However, if Coal River Mountain is leveled by Massey, wind farming will not be economically viable on the unstable ground and lowered ridges.

Vernon Haltom, co-director of the Coal River Wind Project, expresses his concern:

“The Brushy Fork sludge dam places the downstream communities in imminent danger. The threat of being inundated by a wall of toxic sludge is always present. Blasting next to this dam increases this risk at the same that it destroys the opportunity for renewable wind energy.”

Katie Huszcza and Colin Flood, along with Jimmy Tobias and Sophie Kern, have been taken into custody and are being held on a collective $12,000 bail.

Head over to ClimateGroundZero.org or MountainJustice.org to learn more and/or check on the activists.

Jed worked with Appalachian Voices as a Communications Specialist and the primary Front Porch blogger during spring/summer 2010.


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