Dear Obama and Gov. Manchin: Act on Coal River Crisis

The mechanization of above-ground mountaintop removal has prevented a diverse economy and led to a decrease in coal mining jobs in some of the highest poverty stricken strip-mining areas.
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"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue." --Martin Luther King, Jr., to the eight fellow clergymen who opposed the civil rights action, "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Why We Can't Wait, 1960

The nation watched yesterday as fourteen Coal River Mountain residents were arrested and charged with trespassing at a mountaintop removal mine site in West Virginia, in their attempt to draw attention to a possible coal waste dam disaster several times the size of last December's TVA coal ash pond disaster.

But an even bigger question arose: Given that the blasting for the proposed 6,600 acre mountaintop removal site on Coal River Mountain, which rests beside a 6 billion-gallon toxic coal waste sludge dam above underground mines, could be catastrophic for the communities downstream, where was Gov. Joe Manchin?

After the TVA coal pond disaster, and the eastern Kentucky coal sludge disaster in 2000, how could the West Virginia governor simply sit quietly on the sidelines and do nothing?

How can Lisa Jackson and the Environmental Protection Agency overlook this crisis?

Is a crisis never a crisis until it is validated by disaster?

Even James Hansen, the nation's foremost expert on climate change, made an appeal to the White House in Washington, DC, declaring his support: "President Obama, please look at Coal River Mountain. Your strongest supporters are counting on you to stop this madness."

In a statement, Hansen added: "Someone needs to tell President Obama: Coal River Mountain is a symbol of the promise and the hope and the possibilities for a brighter future."

"Massey could flood the towns of Pettus, Whitesville and Sylvester with toxic coal sludge," said Julia Bonds, of Rock Creek, W.Va. "Blasting at a multi-billion-gallon sludge lake over underground mines could cause the sludge to burst through and kill thousands of people."

According to the residents' letter to Massey, "directly in the path of a possible spill at this site is a head start center, our senior center, and the town of Whitesville, with the potential for the loss of lives in the west end of Raleigh County and dozens of miles into Boone County."

Instead of the impending 6,600 acre mountaintop removal strip mine, the Coal River residents planted a banner for the Coal River Wind Project, a nationally acclaimed proposal that would create 200 local construction jobs, and 50 permanent jobs, enough energy for 150,000 homes, and allow for sustainable forestry and mountain tourism projects, as well as a limited amount of underground mining.

"The governor and county legislators have failed to act, so we're acting for them," Coal River Wind advocate Rory McIlmoil said. "They shouldn't allow the wind potential on Coal River Mountain to be destroyed, and the nearby communities endangered, for only 17 years of coal. There is a better way to develop the mountain and strengthen the local economy that will create lasting jobs and tax revenues for this county, and that's with wind power.

Over 470 mountains in central Appalachia have been blown to bits by strip mining. Over 1,200 miles of waterways have been destroyed with mining fill; wells have been busted and polluted with toxic waste. The mechanization of above-ground mountaintop removal has prevented any diversified economy and led to a decrease in coal mining jobs in some of the highest poverty stricken strip-mining areas.

Take a look at testimonies from Coal River Mountain residents and the Climate Ground Zero campaign.

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