CHARLESTON, West Virginia, October 20, 2009 (ENS) – Seven opponents of mountaintop removal mining, ages 18 to 22, were arrested Monday afternoon as they staged a sit-in at the State Capitol office of Governor Joe Manchin, a Democrat.
Capitol Police and State Police troopers arrested the seven protesters shortly after 5 pm when they refused to leave a reception area that was closing at the end of the day.
Earlier, Manchin met with the protesters, Coal River Valley residents and supporters associated with Mountain Justice and Climate Ground Zero. They delivered a letter to the governor asking him to use his executive powers to repeal the permits issued for mountaintop removal mining operations on Coal River Mountain, one of the last intact mountains remaining in the Coal River Valley area.
“We are delivering this letter to our governor with residents of the Coal River Valley,” said Miranda Miller and Angela Wiley of Morgantown, West Virginia, two of the seven sitters.
“We are West Virginia citizens standing in solidarity with the people who submitted comments for this letter, voicing their concerns on the dangers of blasting on Coal River Mountain,” they said.
The governor said it was not his place to issue or block mining permits, and that he is trying to find a balance between mining jobs and environmental protection.
“What we’re trying to do is find a balance, and that’s tough to do in an extractive state,” Manchin told the protesters.
The seven protesters were cited with misdemeanor trespassing and obstruction for refusing to leave the office at closing time. The seven were brought to the Charleston police station for booking before being held at the Municipal Court of Charleston. Bail was set at $1,500 each, with a $150 bond option. Bond has been paid and they have all been released.
While Governor Manchin told the protesters he is trying to find a balance, his reaction to the U.S. EPA’s decision Friday to block a permit for the Mingo Logan Coal Company’s Spruce No.1 Mine mountaintop removal project was anger.
“To say that I am mad would be an understatement,” said Manchin about the EPAs decision, the first-ever review of a previously permitted project since Congress enacted the Clean Water Act in 1972.
“The Spruce No.1 Mine permit was one of the most reviewed and carefully examined permits in history, taking almost 10 years to get approval finally in 2007, and now the EPA is telling the employees and the business that made the investment that no you cannot work,” said the governor. “This is a prime example of how the federal government is not working for the people.”
The process of mountaintop removal coal mining involves blasting with explosives to remove up to 1,000 vertical feet of mountain to expose underlying coal seams. Excess rock and soil are dumped into the valley below, burying whatever stream existed.
Seven protesters sit in the reception area of Governor Joe Manchin’s office. October 19, 2009. (Photo by Chris Eischler courtesy CGZ)
EPA Region 3 Acting Director William Early said that the decision to disallow the mountaintop removal mining permit was taken because the project would bury more than seven miles of streams.
Degradation of water quality could be even more pervasive, Early explained in his October 16 letter to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Robert Peterson of West Virginia’s Huntington District.
“In addition to the cumulative adverse water quality impacts that include those associated with the Spruce No.1 mine,” he wrote, “there are 12 additional surface mining projects either proposed or authorized but not built in the same watershed. The cumulative impacts on the degraded sub-basin of Spruce No.1 together with these 12 additional projects, if all built, have not been assessed and factored in the regulatory context.”
“In addition,” wrote Early, “the permit does not contain conditions sufficient to ensure effective compensation for stream functions destroyed by this mining project.”
“That it is necessary in this circumstance to initiate [Clean Water Act] Section 404(c) review reflects the magnitude and scale of anticipated direct, indirect, and cumulative adverse environmental impacts associated with this mountaintop removal mining operation – the largest strip mining operation ever proposed in Appalachia when it was first permitted by the Corps,” Early wrote. “EPA emphasizes that the Spruce No.1 represents an unusual set ofcircumstances we do not expect to be repeated again.”
Still, Governor Manchin is displeased with the EPA’s action.
“This federal bureaucracy is misleading, and is adding excessive red tape that is affecting peoples livelihoods,” he said Friday. “Government should be a facilitator and partner, not a hindrance to Americans working to obtain the American Dream and that is to have a good job, make a decent wage and provide for their family.”
But the protesters and their allies with Climate Ground Zero and other groups say, wind power, not coal, is the key to future economic prosperity in the Coal River Valley.
Coal River Valley residents point out that the ridges on Coal River Mountain are rated as Class 7 wind sources, the highest and most productive rating. Research by the Coal River Community Wind Project has shown that a wind farm on top of the mountain could generate approximately 1.2 percent of West Virginias total energy needs and would create at least 300 jobs in the area.
They say a wind farm would produce energy for as long as the wind blows, unlike coal reserves of which, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey, will last only another 14 years.
“By blasting away our wind potential, we risk losing the opportunity to have jobs that would last forever,” Chuck Nelson, a retired coal miner, said, “As we face the climate crisis, we need to set an example in creating renewable energy.”