This was the voice of an Appalachian grassroots resistance movement, not the usual polite policy wonkery we’re used to hearing in the nation’s capital. On June 8, supporters of the March on Blair Mountain against mountaintop removal coal mining rallied outside the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, DC, praising EPA for recent actions while skewering, by name, high-level pro-industry elected officials from Appalachia. “What it boils down to here is that we have people who are dying and we have a congressional representation that does nothing about it,” said one speaker. “Think about what’s taking place in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee. These moron sociopaths in Congress are trying to create a situation where they keep the EPA from doing their job, so they can continue to murder people.”
Earthjustice, the public interest environmental law firm, covered the rally with a June 8 post (“Voices of Appalachia Call for Abolition of Mountaintop Removal” that included this:
A group of coalfield citizens traveled to Washington, D.C., during the March on Blair Mountain to renew their call for the end of mountaintop removal mining, a devastating coal mining practice that is destroying their communities, contaminating their drinking water supplies, and threatening the health and lives of many Appalachians. They deliver this message in solidarity with the March on Blair Mountain, underway in West Virginia today.
The citizens extended their thanks to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the one government agency that has begun to take steps to protect them from that oppression, pollution, poison, disease, and destruction of their homes and communities. The Environmental Protection Agency is weathering a storm of well-financed assaults from the coal industry, and its allies in other wealthy extractive industries. …
Climate Science Watch was there, and we recorded and have transcribed some of the speakers. The text alone doesn’t really do justice to the intensity of the talks, but here’s what they said:
BO WEBB (Coal River Mountain Watch):
Good morning, my name is Bo Webb. I’m from the Coal River Valley, West Virginia. I live directly beneath a 2,000-acre mountaintop removal site. Nearly 4 million pounds of explosives are detonated every day in southern West Virginia. These explosives are diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate – the same bomb that Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City bombing terror that took place a few years ago.
People living in these communities are being terrorized. Mountaintop removal is an unprecedented type of mining. It’s actually only been taking place for about 15 years. And the last 10 years ramped up, more aggressive and ever-growing. I think what we’re seeing today is the long-term effects of this continual blasting and these pollutants in the air. We’re breathing ammonium nitrate, we’re breathing diesel fuel. We’re breathing a lot of silica from sandstone, which makes up a lot of West Virginia’s rock formations.
People are dying. And in the last year, year-and-a-half, I have watched so many young people around me die. I can’t take it no more.
There have been numerous scientific studies in the past year-and-a-half. Peer-reviewed science papers, that conclude that mountaintop removal is harming people. It’s killing people in these communities. The EPA cited their concern for the health effects in the Spruce Mine permit that they vetoed. It’s a serious problem.
And yet, we have these elected morons – Jay Rockefeller, Joe Manchin, Nick Rahall, Shelley Capito, and David McKinley  – I mean sociopathic morons, I don’t know what else to call them. They refuse to acknowledge this science. Because if they acknowledge it, they’re going to have to do something about it.
In my opinion, you don’t get much lower than that. As a congressional representative of the people, you turn your back on them to prop up a criminal enterprise that has created illegal jobs, and then tries to subvert democracy and change the law to prevent the EPA from doing their job to protect the waters of America and the people from industrial polluters.
These agencies are created – their mandate is to protect people, and EPA’s job is to protect people from industry pollution. In West Virginia, we have the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. They were created to do the same thing. The problem there is, they’ve become captured. The people are not well-served when these agencies become captured. Our tax money, poisoning our people.
I’ve been involved in a study and I’m actively involved in a health study right now in Coal River. It is going to be peer-reviewed shortly and there’ll be a paper on it. I’ve been told there’s a couple of things I can’t comment on. I’m going to tell you a couple of things I can comment on so far that will be in this published paper.
We’ve found that people in Coal River are more than twice as likely to have cancer than folks in Pocahontas County. And those in Pocahontas County also have high rates of cancer. If you live in Coal River you have three times as great a risk of having cancer than anywhere in America. And this extra cancer is not being caused because of age, not smoking, not family history, or working as a coal miner.
Birth defects are 30 percent higher in mountaintop removal communities – 30 percent – than non-mountaintop removal areas. This is based on 1.8 million births over the past eight years. These higher rates of birth defects are not due to mother’s age, prenatal care, smoking, drinking during pregnancy, or any other risk that might be associated with it.
What it boils down to here is that we have people who are dying and we have a congressional representation that does nothing about it. We have state agencies that do nothing about it. We have fat cats on Wall Street who are financing and getting rich off our sorry asses. And I am fed up and tired of it. They’re killing people, for money. That’s what going on here. And Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller and Nick Rahall especially are supporting them. And they’re protecting them from the law. And trying to change the law so they can continue to do it.
So I just ask everyone here today, get on the phone, call these creeps, and ask them, who are they? I can’t think of a more unpatriotic thing to do than what they’re doing. They’re Benedict Arnolds. They’re treasonous. Democracy is a sham with these people. They’re criminals. And I call on the Justice Department to put ‘em in jail. Every one of them.
Just go and think about this and what’s taking place in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee. These moron sociopaths in Congress are trying to create a situation where they keep the EPA from doing their job, so they can continue to murder people.
Note : Refers to the five U.S. Senators and Representatives from West Virginia. Sen. Rockefeller, Sen. Manchin, and Rep. Rahall are Democrats, Rep. Capito and Rep. McKinley are Republicans.
MICKEY McCOY (Kentuckians for the Commonwealth):
I’ll take off my ZZ Top sunglasses so that Hal Rogers can see my face. I want him to look at me and who’s saying these things about him and McConnell. My name is Mickey McCoy and I’m from Inez, Kentucky. That’s home to the 2000 sludge flood, where 308 million gallons of toxic sludge broke from a coal impoundment. They call it a ‘sludge pond’. It’s 72 acres, baby – that’s a lake. And it broke out and went in two parts of the county, releasing 308 million gallons of sludge.
It was almost totally covered up. The coal industry has such a stranglehold on every facet of life in Kentucky and West Virginia that that particular – which the EPA called the worst environmental disaster east of the Misissippi at that time – it was almost completely covered up. I don’t think it made the scroll on CNN.
You know, there’s a phrase echoing in the capitol rotundas in Kentucky and West Virginia, and here in DC. And it’s being shouted by the likes of Steve Beshear, and Senator McConnell, and of course Hal Rogers, just to name a few . You see, as puppets of King Coal, these men try to assure their colleagues, and the rest of the country, that the United States Environmental Protection Agency has launched a ‘war on coal’.
Well, them old boys are partly right. There is a war going on. It’s a war that was started years ago, but it’s continuing as we speak, with the bombing of the central Appalachians. It is killing our land and our people. It is a corporate greed assault, that if allowed to continue will spell the genocide of an entire culture.
Thank God that the EPA has intervened. The EPA, using the facts of science – I wonder if anybody on Capitol Hill understands what that means – science has become an ally of the people. And in doing so, the EPA is just doing their job.
On behalf of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth – I’m a member of – and for all those thousands of people, folks in the mountains who have lost loved ones due to the carcinogenic heavy metals blown out of the earth and poisoning our waters by this hellish, murderous extraction of coal called mountaintop removal – to represent them, I stand proudly in defiance of Governor Steven Beshear, McConnell, King Coal and all the King’s lap puppies in the statehouses of Kentucky and West Virginia and those here in Washington, DC, who put corporate gains over people’s lives.
I proudly stand against all those who support the bomb and death squads, who feed the poisonous, murderous waters to the Appalachians. Yes, I proudly stand with my brothers and sisters from West Virginia, and with all of you here today as we shout to the high heavens: thank you Environmental Protection Agency! Thank you EPA, for your scientific-backed judgments in the mining permit process and the standards for protecting our streams. Thank you EPA, for acknowledging that the central Appalachians are not, we are not a throwaway culture.
Thank you, our EPA, for standing strong when political windbags and airheads, who care for nothing but padding their re-election coffers – for standing strong when these people pound you with lawsuits and personal insults, and outright damned lies.
EPA has no ‘war on coal’. By bombing our mountains and poisoning our water, coal declared war on Appalachia. Listen, due to the mountain bombing, the coalfields of Appalachia have been transformed to the killing fields. And every state and national political figure who backs mountaintop removal stands guilty as an accessory to murder.
Note : Refers to Governor Beshear (D-Kentucky), Sen. Grant McConnell (R-Kentucky), and Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Kentucky).
The Earthjustice post on the rally included these remarks by Rev. Allen Johnson, Co-Founder and Director, Christians for the Mountains, Dunmore (Pocahontas County), WV:
… To plunder the Earth for profit and to exploit human communities for short-term gain is to pour contempt upon God.
We call upon Congress, upon state government, upon the EPA, and upon the American people, to uphold the Golden Rule to our Appalachian neighbors. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Look deep into your conscience and ask yourself this question. ‘Would you want your family, your loved ones, yourself, to breathe contaminated air, drink and bathe in toxic water, have interminable explosions rocking your peace, have your local community depopulated, and have your once-beautiful surroundings degraded? Or are you OK with sacrificing a major portion of Appalachia so that certain corporations can ‘keep the lights on’ while making hefty profits?
Bo Webb, along with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and others, is featured in “The Last Mountain,” a powerful, must-see documentary on mountaintop removal and the battle over Coal River Mountain.
Policy Forum: “Mountaintop Mining Consequences” (Science, 8 January 2010)
“EPA releases mountaintop-removal studies” (Greenwire, May 27, 2001, by subscription):
U.S. EPA has released two studies on the effects of mountaintop-removal mining in Appalachian states, which provide the backbone of the agency’s justification for increased environmental oversight of the practice. …
One of the studies, dealing with the effect of mountaintop mines and valley fills on Appalachian aquatic life, found that streams are permanently lost as a result of companies removing mountains and filling surrounding areas with waste. The study also documented higher levels of selenium and other pollutants near mining operations, which affect organisms.
The second study focused on conductivity, a measure of how well waters can carry an electric charge. It found that high levels of conductivity are associated with loss of aquatic life. As a result, EPA’s interim guidance set the first ever numeric standard for conductivity, a move critics say is beyond the scope of guidance documents. …
The mining industry is challenging the guidance in court, saying it amounts to new rules. The document has also been the subject of congressional hearings, an ongoing investigation by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and review from the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. A revised version is expected in the very near future.
While critics on both sides of the aisle say the agency is overstepping its bounds and hurting job creation, environmental advocates defend the guidance, saying it’s evidence of EPA finally enforcing the Clean Water Act. They’re worried White House review will lead to a watered down version. …