A Victory in Appalachia


A Victory in Appalachia

Janet Perry
West Virginia

Larry Gibson would be celebrating. The hero of the Appalachian Movement against ‘King Coal’s destructive mountain-top removal practices, died in September. It will be said that, “Its too bad Larry couldn’t have seen this.” The big news? On Thursday, Nov 15, Patriot Coal Corporation agreed to cease mountaintop removal mining. In a settlement with citizens’ groups Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Sierra Club, Patriot “concluded that the continuation or expansion of surface mining . . . is not in its long term interests.” They also stated, “Patriot recognizes that our mining operations impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways, and we are committed to maximizing the benefits of this agreement for our stakeholders, including our employees and neighbors.”
One of the most impressive activists I met in the West Virginia coal fields was Debbie Jarrell. She is now the Co-Director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “For a company to admit that it’s harming the community is a major step, but we can’t wait for all the companies to end mountaintop removal out of the goodness of their hearts. Citizens have pleaded with Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal and others for decades to stop this abominable practice, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears and government agencies have not ended the practice. I worry for my grandchildren’s health and for the health of everyone in the community. Patriot is showing that a company doesn’t have to threaten its neighbors’ health and that mountaintop removal is unnecessary.”
I visited Coal River Mountain Watch’s offices with Debbie Jarrell. The offices and the town sit in the path of the Brushy Fork Impoundment, larger than the Hoover Dam, the containment wall is cracking. If the containment wall breaks, it is unlikely the staff at CRMW would have time to escape the exploding, flaming toxic sludge that would engulf the town in minutes. Jarrell and the other staff of CRMW risk their lives everyday that they go to work.
Also in the path of the deadly sludge would be the home/office of the folks of Climate Ground Zero, whose daring and dangerous technical feats bring media attention to the plight of the coal-field communities. When approaching the Climate Ground Zero house, folks hanging about tend to scatter until they know who has arrived. This is because activists have been continually hurt by coal-company thugs. This intimidation has been going on for years. Locals are loathe to speak up against the coal companies, knowing the retaliation could be severe to both themselves and to their families. When the destruction to their communities’ water and air started killing their children, it was the final straw. Coal-field residents started speaking up and joining the fight. The movement grew and took hold. With shaking voices, they spoke up at town meetings, risking retaliation from coal company thugs sitting, glaring at them from the audience. They traveled to DC and pounded the marble floors, taking their plight to Congress.
Colorado Congressman Jared Polis has been an opponent to mountain-top removal and has backed legislation to protect the Appalachians from these destructive practices. CRMW asks that we all contact our US House representative and ask him or her to protect human lives and health by co-sponsoring the ACHE Act, HR 5959. You can contact them through the Capitol switchboard at 202-224 -3121. For more information visit Coal River Mountain Watch at: www.crmw.net.

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