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Mountaintop removal for coal


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February 3, 2009 by Guy Crittenden

Often I receive news releases that aren’t a great fit for the magazine or website, but are interesting, and environmentally related. The release below should be of interest to anyone who wishes to follow the issue of mountaintop removal for coal extraction — certainly one of the most controversial and questionable activities in the United States today.

NEW COAL SLUDGE DANGER? CITIZENS WARN OF DANGER OF BLASTING NEAR SLUDGE DAM 10 TIMES BIGGER THAN TVA’S KINGSPORT SITE

Protest Takes Place as Massey Energy Prepares to Blast Coal River Mountain; TheCLEAN.org Joins Local Groups in Calling for More Study of Risks at CRM, Other Sites Posing Kingsport-Like Dangers.

PETTUS, W.Va.//February 3, 2009//Plans to start blasting as part of the mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining operation on West Virginia’s Coal River Mountain could compromise an eight-billion-gallon coal sludge dam that is roughly 10 times bigger than the coal ash dam that was breached in late December 2008, in Kingsport, Tenn.

Local citizens gathered today at the Marfork Coal Company gate, in Pettus, W.Va., approximately one hour from Charleston, W.Va., to protest the blasting of Coal River Mountain by Massey Energy. Instead of mountaintop removal, the citizens would prefer a wind farm, which studies show would provide more tax revenue and more jobs over time than mountaintop removal. Top climate scientist James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has endorsed the residents’ call for the wind farm.

“I fear for my friends and all the people living below this coal sludge dam,” said Gary Anderson, who lives on the mountain near the site. “Blasting beside the dam, over underground mines, could decimate the valley for miles. The ‘experts’ said that the Buffalo Creek sludge dam was safe, but it failed. They said that the TVA sludge dam was safe, but it failed. Massey is setting up an even greater catastrophe here.”

Today’s action was organized by pan-Appalachian Mountain Justice (http://www.mountainjustice.org) and Climate Ground Zero (http://www.ClimateGroundZero.org). The citizens were joined by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute (CSI) and TheCLEAN.org (http://www.TheClean.org), a collaborative movement of grassroots organizations and individuals with the common goal of implementing a new energy future through safe and clean renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Vivian Stockman, of the West Virginia-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, one of the co-conveners of the TheCLEAN.org, said: “The attack on Coal River Mountain has emerged as a national symbol of the foolishness of permanently sacrificing mountains, forests, streams and nearby communities. This mountain instead could support a wind farm, creating safer long-term jobs, more taxes and clean energy. The fact that Coal River Mountain blasting would jeopardize an eight-billion-gallon toxic coal sludge dam underscores why this nation needs to transition as quickly as possible to its clean energy future.”

Vernon Haltom, a resident of the Coal River Valley and Mountain Justice volunteer, said: “The myth of ‘clean coal’ ignores the tragedy of mountaintop removal, the poisoning of our drinking water, and severe health consequences from coal mining and burning. People are no longer going to stand by silently and let coal companies destroy our communities while the government does nothing.”

Haltom added: “We’ve worked within the West Virginia system, but now we need the support of President Obama and federal lawmakers to make sure that the risk of mountaintop removal operations is fully analyzed, disclosed and then dealt with. In practical terms, that means no mountaintop removal.”

How big is the potential risk of a coal sludge spill at Coal River Mountain?

The coal sludge dam site is located over underground mines and also poses a direct risk to a nearby school, town and scores of local residents.

Massey is already clearing trees to begin work on the proposed mountaintop removal operation, the same site where residents are advocating for a wind farm as a safe alternative for cleaner energy and long-term jobs (http://www.coalriverwind.org).

Local citizens are calling on the W.V. Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) to suspend Massey’s permit due to the recent coal disasters in Tennessee and revelations that the DEP has failed to properly regulate sludge dams.

Residents worry that blasting next to a sludge lake above underground mines may create a catastrophe that could kill thousands in the communities downstream.

“President Obama, please look at Coal River Mountain. Your strongest supporters are counting on you to stop this madness, ” Hansen, the climate scientist, said.

A 2008 report by the federal Office of Surface Mining revealed serious deficiencies in the WV DEP’s regulation of coal waste dams (http://www.wvgazette.com/News/200901110512?page=1&build=cache).

Massey also operated the Martin County, Ky., sludge dam that released approximately 300 million gallons of coal waste through underground mines in 2000. The EPA called that the worst environmental disaster in the Southeast.

Then, in December 2008, a coal ash sludge impoundment operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) failed near Harriman, Tenn. That disaster released one billion gallons that destroyed three homes, damaged twelve more and covered 300 acres.

CONTACT: Ailis Aaron Wolf, for CSI/TheCLEAN.org, (703) 276-3265 or aaaron@hastingsgroup.com.


Guy Crittenden

Guy Crittenden

Guy Crittenden was formerly Editor of this magazine and is currently a freelance writer specializing in environmental and producer responsibility themes. He lives in Collingwood, Ontario, Canada and can be contacted directly at gcrit @ rogers DOT com
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