Activists Rally for Ison Rock Ridge, Urge EPA to Stand Strong
On May 27, activists with the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), Mountain Justice, and the Sierra Club gathered for a rally and march through the town of Appalachia, Va., to call on the Environmental Protection Agency to deny a mountaintop removal permit for nearby Ison Rock Ridge.
Located in Wise County in southwestern Virginia, Ison Rock Ridge is under attack by coal companies who want to blow it up using the devastating technique of mountaintop removal (MTR) to get at the coal seams underneath—a practice the coal industry euphemistically refers to as surface mining.
A mountaintop removal permit for Ison Rock Ridge has been approved for the A&G Coal Company by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, but the project has been held up since 2009 by the U.S. EPA.
The rally in Appalachia kicked off at 10 a.m., with speakers from SAMS, Mountain Justice, the Sierra Club, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Heartwood, and other allied organizations, who gathered from ten different states. Ralliers were also led in a rendition of SAMS' unofficial anthem, Stop Tearing the Mountains Down.
"We're worried that the EPA is succumbing to pressure from Congress and industry to back down on its strong stance on mountaintop removal and valley fills," Sierra Club organizer Hannah Morgan, an Appalachia resident, told the Bristol Herald Courier. "This march is a celebration that the mountain is still standing." That's Morgan at right, above, with red hair.
After the rally an estimated 75 protestors marched down Main Street in Appalachia with signs and giant puppets representing King Coal, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, U.S. Congressman Morgan Griffith, and Ison Rock Ridge itself, while musicians played traditional Appalachian tunes.
"If this permit is approved, we will only see an increase in the already-devastating health impacts on our people as a result of mountaintop removal mining," said registered nurse and SAMS Vice-President Jane Branham, below at right. "Our people are dying from the pollution in the water and air and the EPA is the only agency that's willing to take a stand to protect us."
Several marchers carried signs reading "Not 1 more mountain, Not 1 more child"—a reference to the death of 3-year-old Jeremy Davidson in the nearby community of Inman in 2004.
The boy was killed while sleeping in his bed when a half-ton bounder, dislodged by an A&G bulldozer at 2:30 a.m. nearly 700 feet above, rolled down the slope and came crashing through the wall of the Davidson home, below. A&G was cited for "gross negligence" and fined $15,000 for permit violations.
For the last decade-and-a-half, mountaintop removal has been steadily demolishing the biologically diverse mountains and obliterating or poisoning the streams in Wise County, where Ison Rock Ridge is located. Residents who cherish their mountain heritage are making a last stand for Ison Rock, which has been identified as the most endangered mountain in Virginia.
Above, an MTR operation Wise County. Below, a map of northern Wise County, showing existing MTR sites in bright red and the proposed Ison Rock Ridge MTR site in maroon, labeled PROPOSED MINE. Note the community of Inman occupying the narrow valley between Ison Rock Ridge and the MTR operation that killed Jeremy Davidson.
"The EPA is our last line of defense here in Appalachia," says Sam Broach, a former miner who is now president of SAMS. "We support what they have done to hold up this permit and we just want them to stick to their guns and stand strong." That's Broach below, with the Sierra Club's Hannah Morgan.
Watch these video interviews of Wise County activists who are working to save their county's mountain heritage (scroll down to "Virginia" interviews). And read about some of the heroes who are working to stop MTR.