Violence Escalating Against Anti-Coal Activists

The devastated landscape of a mountaintop coal removal site
Above: The devastated landscape of a mountaintop coal removal site. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Coal is the dirtiest fuel around, which is why movements are springing up across the country to end our reliance on this supremely destructive fossil fuel. The epicenter of this movement is Appalachia, which once produced two-thirds of America’s coal.

These activists are often being met with hostility and even violence by the coal miners and their families, tens of thousands of whom still rely on King Coal to put bread on the table.

The frontline in the fight is no doubt West Virginia, the heart of Appalachian coal country, where a constellation of small, citizen-led groups have been working to stop environmentally devastating mountaintop removal mining. Among them are some of the environmental movement’s biggest heroes: Maria Gunnoe, of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, received a 2009 Goldman Prize (sometimes called the “green Nobel”) for her work to stop mountaintop removal in her native West Virginia. She’s pursued this work despite harrassment and threats of violence from coal miners.

Another West Virgininan woman honored with a 2003 Goldman Prize is Judy Bonds, founder of Coal River Mountain Watch.

Violence and intimidation against these and other activists in West Virginia’s moutaintop removal country are escalating. In late June, Ms. Bonds was violently attacked by the wife of a coal miner. She was participating in a nonviolent march to support an elementary school that sits downslope from 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge and a coal prep site operated by Massey Energy, a company with mountaintop removal mining operations in the area The woman hit Bonds around her head, ear and jaw, and also attempted to attack another protestor, Lorelei Scarbro, a coal miner’s widow and local community organizer.

At the July 4th Mountain Keepers Music Festival on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia, around 20 (rather obviously) drunken Massey Energy supporters, wearing Massey Energy clothing and claiming that they worked for the company, crashed the festival, cursing and threatening people’s lives quite directly. People who were there report that some of the pro-mining protesters were wearing Massey Energy-issued blue and orange shirts. The majority of people attending the festival were local citizens, ranging in age from babies in their parents arms to octogenarians proud of the generations of their families there with them.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin has ignored the situation. He really needs to hear from as many Americans as possible that the world is watching in growing horror as these bullies and thugs are allowed to get away with their intimidation-and-violence tactics.

You can call 304-558-2000 to tell Gov. Manchin to stop the violence.

But the bullying, threats, harrassment, and violence are only strengthening the resolve of those involved in the movement to stop King Coal. On June 19th, several activists shut down the Massey Twilight mountaintop removal coal mining site, and they documented it on video. It’s a pretty moving testament to the courage and conviction of these activists.

There are several groups you can get involved with if you want to pitch in. Mountain Justice, Coal River Mountain Watch, Mountain Action, The Mountaintop Removal Roadshow, and Climate Ground Zero are just a few websites and/or groups where you can find out what’s going on and what you can do to help.

And it’s not just in Appalachia, of course:

  • Stop Cliffside, for instance, is “a coordinated campaign of citizen advocacy groups in North Carolina working for a clean, safe and responsible energy future” who have staged several acts of civil disobedience against Duke Energy’s proposed Cliffside coal plant.
  • The Chesapeake Climate Action Network peacefully blocked the entrance to Virginia Congressman Rick Boucher’s office in Washington, D.C. to protest his role in gutting the Waxman-Markey climate bill by making sure it gave away billions of dollars in free permits to the coal industry (a fact Boucher proudly crows about on his website).

Mainstream enviro groups are doing a lot of important work to stop new coal plants from being built, because, as the website for the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign notes,

Coal provides about half of our electricity and more than 30% of our global warming pollution. From the mine to the plant, coal is our dirtiest energy source. It causes asthma and other health problems, destroys our mountains, and releases toxic mercury into our communities. Continuing our dependence on coal chains us to dirty energy and prevents us from making the changes we need to bring about a clean, secure energy future.

Wherever you are, the movement to stop our reliance on coal and move our society towards clean, safe, renewable sources of energy is picking up steam. Every voice counts, so get involved and lend yours to the cause today.

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