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“You’ve got to stand for something,” sings John Mellencamp, “Or you’re gonna fall for anything,”
Folks in West Virginia’s Coal River Valley are no longer falling for the long litany of lies they’ve gotten from coal company executives and bought-off politicians. The corporate elites of the state have literally been destroying mountains, forests, streams, wildlife, livelihoods, human health, and whole communities in Appalachia by using a brutal and contemptible form of coal mining called “mountaintop removal.”
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For years, people here have tried the usual political and legal channels to stop this corporate assault – yet it continues. So people are now putting themselves on the line. “Somebody has to do something about it,” says one Mountaineer, “so we do the little things we can.”
One of those “little things” includes going to jail. On May 23, at three mountaintop removal sites, protesters carried out non-violent civil disobedience actions, and 17 were jailed. Two women, for example, donned hazmat suits and respirators and boated onto the Brushy Fork impoundment – an 8-billion-gallon lake of poisonous coal slurry waste. Having unfurled a floating, 60-foot banner reading: “No More Toxic Sludge,” they were arrested for – get this – “littering!” How can you litter a toxic waste dump?
Though the charges against the protesters are misdemeanors, state judges demanded that each one post a punitive bail of $2,000 cash, rather than the usual step of posting much cheaper bonds. Contrast these bail rates with the meager fine that one of the coal giants paid when its slurry lake broke, poisoning 14 miles of river. It’s fine was $1,800.
King Coal may think it owns West Virginia, but the people are in revolt. To connect with this growing movement, go to www.ohvec.org.
“Four for the Coal River 17 Released Minutes After Press Conference,” Press Release from climategroundzero.org, May 26, 2009.
“Seventeen Arrested Saturday; Six Remain in Jail for Opposition to Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining and Coal Sludge Impoundments; $2000 Cash Bail ‘Unprecedented'” Press Release from Sludge Watch Collective, May 24, 2009.
“More Arrests on Coal River Valley as Actions Against Mountaintop Removal and Coal Sludge Dams Continue,” Press Release from Sludge Watch Collective, May 23, 2009.
“11 Removed During Raleigh County, W. Va. Protest of Coal Sludge Dams and Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining; More Protestors Expected This Afternoon,” ,” Press Release from Sludge Watch Collective, May 23, 2009.
“Activist arrested protesting dangerous coal sludge dam in West Virginia,” www.southernstudies.org , May 2009.
“Press Conference for Mountain Justice and Climate Ground Zero’s Anti-Mountaintop Removal Actions on May 23rd, 2009,” Press Release from climategroundzero.org, May 25, 2009.