Mountaintop mining protests take to W.Va. trees
PETTRY BOTTOM, W.Va. — Two activists trying to stop mountaintop removal mining climbed into treetop platforms near a Massey Energy mine in southern West Virginia early Tuesday, vowing to stay put until the coal company stops blasting and compensates residents for health care and home repair.
The protesters unfurled two banners, one urging an end to the particularly destructive form of strip mining. The other was directed at the state Department of Environmental Protection, which they contend is not adequately safeguarding residents or the environment: “Don’t Expect Protection.”
Mountaintop removal mining is a process in which companies remove vast areas to expose coal. While they are required to restore much of the land, the removal creates many tons of debris that’s used to fill nearby valleys. The blasting can damage homes by shifting foundations, cracking walls and throwing rock from the mine site.
Nick Stocks and Laura Steepleton, both of Rock Creek, are at the edge of the Edwight mine site in Raleigh County, about 80 feet above the ground and 30 feet from the mine. They are also within 300 feet of the blasting area. State law prohibits blasting when people are that close.
Stocks and Steepleton said they’ll remain in the trees until Virginia-based Massey stops blasting, which they said occurs daily around 4 p.m. But State Police Sgt. M.A. Smith said the mine superintendent told him that Massey had no immediate plans to blast there.
Massey officials did not comment, but Smith said the protesters are on the coal company’s land. He cited two activists who were on the ground, Louisiana resident Kim Ellis and Zoe Beavers of Hurricane, with trespassing. Both were later released.
Beavers, an Army veteran, said in a press release that she had served in the military “so that we can all live in a country that does not exploit and destroy its land and people.”
All of the protesters are affiliated with Climate Ground Zero and Mountain Justice. Smith said none of them would speak to him when he went to the site.
“I understand their purpose and what they’re doing, but it’s not safe,” he said, expressing concern the protesters might fall from the trees. “It’s unnecessarily dangerous.”
Massey security guards were assigned to stand by about 75 yards away, Smith said, “watching in case they need anything.”
The superintendent was at the site, too.
“He knows what’s going on,” Smith said, “and he’s not going to do anything to endanger those kids.”
The Department of Environmental Protection did not immediately comment on the protest. The federal Office of Surface Mining considers it a state matter, said agency spokeswoman Cynthia Johnson. She declined further comment.
The protest is the 13th in the Coal River Valley this year.
On the Net:
Climate Ground Zero: www.climategroundzero.org/
Massey Energy: www.masseyenergyco.com/