Virginians Rally at EPA to Stop Mountaintop Removal Mining
Hundreds of Virginians and citizens from across the region gathered on November 16 at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., to raise their voices against a proposed mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mine that would destroy Ison Rock Ridge in Wise County, Va.
Ralliers called on the EPA and the White House to block A&G Coal's mining permit and protect the five communities surrounding Ison Rock Ridge. Sierra Club organizer Hannah Morgan (at far left, below), a Wise County resident, helped organize the demonstration with five partner groups under the banner, "Virginia Rising: A Rally to Keep Ison Rock Ridge Standing!"
Morgan was also part of a group that met with EPA Water Division and Region 3 (which includes Virginia) administrators before the rally. "They were genuinely moved by what we had to say," Morgan reports.
Longtime MTR activist and former Sierra Club organizer Adam Wells (below), a Wise County native whose ancestors have lived in the county for generations, was also at the meeting with EPA officials. "I spoke to their hearts and urged them to care about other people and the environment and act immediately," Wells says.
The Sierra Club has been working for years with the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) to organize local residents in the fight against MTR, which has already devastated much of Wise County. SAMS vice-president Jane Branham (below) was among the spokespeople at the EPA meeting and Virginia Rising rally.
"We're fighting to protect our homes and our families," she says. "The state has given A&G coal company permission to blow up our mountain and poison our streams. We're gathered today to send the EPA the message that we need them to intervene. The risks are too serious."
The public health risks connected to mountaintop removal are well-documented. Recent studies link mountaintop removal mining to increased birth defects and cancer rates in counties throughout Appalachia.
"Today's rally was a powerful exercise in showing Appalachia's strength in Washington, D.C., says Morgan, who worked with SAMS for years (and still does) before she became a Sierra Club organizer. "People came together from all over the state in solidarity to say that this permit must be denied and MTR must end."
Organizing Virginia Rising with SAMS and the Sierra Club were Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the Southern Environmental Law Center, with support from Earthjustice and Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light.