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June 18, 2010

Virginians Fight Back Against Mountaintop Removal


On June 1, activists with the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) and the Sierra Club rallied outside the offices of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, to protest A&G Coal Corporation's proposed mountaintop removal coal mining operation on nearby Ison Rock Ridge. That's Andover, Va., resident Maude Jervis, above.


The protestors, all residents of Wise County, where Ison Rock Ridge is located, picketed with signs reading, "Ison Rock Ridge is families. Keep it standing!" and "Don't blast our homes."


Before picketing DMME's offices, ralliers with bullhorns did a "drive-around" through the coal camps, urging residents to join them.

"We recruited two new members during the drive-around," says SAMS organizer Hannah Morgan. "Lots of folks are behind what SAMS is doing and no one wants their home blown up. Some folks are reluctant to take a stand because of their employment, fear of intimidation, or general allegiances to the mining company, but a huge majority of folks we talk to are very concerned."

Maude Jervis and Judy Needham, below, delivered a "Certificate of Failure" to the DMME for failing to protect communities in Southwest Virginia.


Residents of Inman, Derby, Arno, and Andoverdirectly adjacent to the pending 1,200-acre MTR sitetook turns addressing the crowd to express their outrage over DMME's May approval for a portion of the proposed mine above Inman.


"The DMME and the State of Virginia seem to be ignoring regulations protecting our waterways," said Jane Branham, below at left, Vice-President of SAMS and a resident of Big Stone Gap. "It's a shame we have to contact Washington, D.C., to get our state officials to obey the law."


Ben Hooper of Inman added, "The DMME's not there to protect us. It's their job to keep the coal money flowing to Richmond [the state capital], not to make sure the coal is mined responsibly."

Below, SAMS activist Bob Mullins shows where his priorities lie.


In 2005, a 3-year-old boy from Inman was killed while sleeping in his bed when a huge boulder dislodged by a mining operationworking outside its permit boundarycame crashing through the wall of his home, crushing him and barely missing his 8-year-old brother.

The DMME's approval for a portion of the Ison Rock Ridge mine to commence above Inman was granted even though the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers continue to hold the pending mine's permit for review due to evidence that stripmining on this scale violates the Clean Water Act. If it is allowed to proceed, the Ison Rock Ridge mine would destroy three miles of streams and fill in nine valleys with more than 11 million cubic yards of rock and dirt.


Below, a mountaintop removal site in Wise County, near Ison Rock Ridge.


"This thing would have happened nearly three years ago if it hadn't been for us protesting," said Dorothy Taulbee (below), referring to SAMS' previous work to protect the communities surrounding Ison Rock Ridge.


Taulbee's home in the nearby town of Stonega was bulldozed in 2007 when a mining company expanded its MTR operations there and homes near the mine became uninhabitable due to blasting and coal dust. The walls of Taulbee's house cracked under the repeated stress of constant blasting on the ridge above her house. Below, one of Taulbee's neighbors' houses in ruins.


On June 9, SAMS and the Sierra Club took legal action to protect southwest Virginia's waterways and communities by filing a formal administrative challenge to A&G Coal's plan to blow up Ison Rock Ridge. "We're appalled that the State of Virginia ignored the concerns of local residents and federal agencies and approved this permit," said Branham, below with Bob Mullins.


"The company and the state are not looking out for the safety of the people and the environment," said Sam Broach, below at right, President of SAMS and a former coal miner. "They're trying to blast this mountain despite the federal rules. They only care about the bottom dollar, but we care about the future of the community."


Big Coal, which has for more than a century come into small communities in southern Appalachia promising jobs and prosperity, has destroyed millions of acres of the most bio-diverse mixed deciduous forest on earth, driven out virtually every other industry that could offer alternative good-paying jobs to locals, and left the region among the most impoverished in the nation.

"We're going to keep up the fight," said Broach. "We're not quitting here."


Learn more about what the SAMS and the Sierra Club are doing to fight mountaintop removal mining and how you can help stop the destruction of Ison Rock Ridge. And listen to more stories from residents of Southern Appalachia who are fighting against mountaintop removal mining.



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