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Risking Arrest to Plant Trees on a Mountaintop Removal Site

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Today 44 volunteer 'reclamation workers' (activists) illegally marched onto a supposedly reclaimed mine site to plant trees. Why? Because the 'reclamation' efforts done by the mining company resulted in a barren hillside with sparse grass and baking sun - a far cry from the lush and diverse forest destroyed in the process.

After negotiating with the police and planting all the trees, all 44 were allowed to leave the site without repurcussions.

The fight over mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia revolves around jobs. Even though the highly mechinized practice has drastically reduced the number of people employed in the mining industry, the proponents of mining say that West Virginia is poor and needs the jobs. Opponents say healthy and prosperous economies can be created in the area if only the destructive and poisionsous processes of the coal companies are stopped and the natual wealth is not destroyed.

John Johnson, forester and environmentalist said, "The coal industry does not attempt to return the landscape to its previous biodiversity - leaving it up to the citizens to reclaim it themselves. Fixing the ruined landscape will provide long term jobs for those put out of work by the abolition of mountaintop removal."

At 12:30 today, hundreds of people rallied at Stanley Heirs Park, adjacent to Larry Gibson's home on Kayford Mountain. Statesman Ken Hechler and Kayford Mountainkeeper Larry Gibson, along with two miners from Colombia lead the march to the mine site, with participants aged 18 to 96 years old.

Lifelong Coal River Valley resident Junior Walk says, "Coal companies sure as hell aren't going to take it upon themselves to do something about it - some one's got to do it."

44 people walked out onto the mine site to plant 30 hemlocks, pen oak and tulip poplar trees, as well as planting chesnuts, walnuts, acorns. Some deployed a banner reading: "EPA We're Doing Your Job - Over 500 Mountains Destroyed - Reclamation Jobs Now!"

Mine security vehicles and police showed up moments later and negotiated with the activists. By 3:30pm all the trees had been planted and the protesters left the site without repurcussions. While technically tresspassing, it looks like the police didn't have the taste for arresting folks who are calling attention to what the mining companies should be doing.

To see just how agregious this shortcoming is of mining company policy towards reclamation, check out this report from NRDC earlier this year:

For years the mining industry has exploited a federal statutory provision that exempts them from restoring the land to its approximate original contour if there is a plan to develop the land for "equal or better economic use" such as "industrial, commercial, residential or public use."

However, NRDC's analysis - also using aerial imagery - confirms that nearly 90% of mountaintop removal sites have not been converted to economic uses.

That's right: Mining companies don't love mountains but they love bragging about how they restore mine sites for the benefit of local communities. Our study exposes Big Coal's broken promises by proving that post-mining economic prosperity is a big, flat lie.

Coal country politicians have largely supported the mining industry, even to the extreme detriment of American heritage, community health and the economic well being of Appalachia. In an election where Democrats and Republicans alike are rushing to bow at the altar of coal, voters in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennesee, Virginia and elsewhere are often left to regulartory agencies like the Office of Surface Mining, the EPA, state DEP agencies and Mining and Mineral Services. Just getting them to do their job enforcing existing laws (like requiring reclamation) will be a huge victory in the fight to end mountaintop removal.

Want to help?

1.Email (Roger Calhoun Head field operator of Office of Surface Mining and Reclamaiton) Ask him why people are threatened with arrest for reclaiming mine sites? Shouldn't we be paying Appalachian residents to do reclamation work, not arresting them? Send them a link to this blog, or a photo or article, and make sure they feel the heat.

2. Go to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and fill out their online form, asking the same questions.

For updates, check, follow @app_rising and @coalisfilthy, and check For more photos visit the Photobucket Album All photos taken by Jacob Mack-Boll

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