Blair Mountain March - Rally in Washington
While the March on Blair Mountain continues to heat the battle between residents and King Coal in West Virginia, the battle for Blair Mountain and against mountaintop coal removal travelled to the nation's capitol yesterday morning.
Residents of the Appalachian's Coal River Valley and various supporters rallied in front of the Environmental Protection Agency office, thanking the organization for its support, while urging for more stringent coal regulations from Congress and the EPA.
One by one, West Virginia and Kentucky residents shared compelling stories of how the powerful coal industry has threatened the health, safety, history, and future of their communities.
Bo Webb, who lives directly downhill from a 2,000 acre coal mine in the Coal River Valley, is especially concerned with the long term health consequences the industry has brought to his home. Mountaintop removal has polluted the area's water supply, while studies prove that this coal region has higher premature death and cancer rates than non-coal regions in America. These statistics have become a stinging reality for Webb.
"I've watched so many young people around me die, and I can't take it no more."
Others, like Allen Johnson of West Virginia, expressed their discontent with the politics of the coal industry, calling his local congressional representatives "puppets of King Coal." Without government protection or representation, he feels as though "Appalachia is crucified on a cross of coal."
Mari-Lynn Evans, resident of Bulltown West Virginia, remarked that coal companies have "denied their basic human rights guaranteed to them as American citizens," while Debbie Jerrel urged Congress and the EPA to "give at least half the consideration" they give certain animals in other federal regulations.
Many speakers, including Jerrel, expressed the need for a greater accountability upon public officials who have valued monetary benefits over community health and protection in past Congressional votes.
"Appalachian families should not have to choose between healthy families and healthy economies...Mountaintop removal destroys any hope of a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren in Appalachia. It's time our elected representatives begin putting 'We the people' before the profits of corporations."
Among the many voices of Appalachia, Bob Kincaid, President of the Coal River Mountain Watch, offered hope and strength for the movement. He called upon Congress to stop attacking EPA's efforts, and boomed his assurance and support for the agency'a challenging task up and down Twelfth Street.
"Stand fast, Stand firm. We 'hillbillies' - we've got your back."
The Blair Mountain March is taking place from June 4th to the 11th. Supporters of the movement are asking concerned citizens to voice their support for more coal regulation to their local Congressmen and public representatives.
Stay tuned - tomorrow's column from Mary Anne Hitt will cover even more about this week's Blair Mountain March. You can see more photos of the DC rally right here.
-- Laura Wandres, Sierra Club Media Intern. Photos by Rosie Mansfield, Sierra Club Media Intern.