RAMPS Campaign Vows to Continue Fighting to Save the Mountain
Marfork, W.Va.–Catherine-Ann MacDougal is descending her oak tree on Coal River Mountain that she has lived in for the past month in protest of strip mining, and police have been notified. MacDougal, an activist with the RAMPS Campaign, had been in the oak tree on Alpha Natural Resources’ Bee Tree permit since July 20; until August 2, she had been joined by fellow RAMPS activist Becks Kolins. Their tree-sit, the longest in West Virginia history, effectively halted blasting on the Bee Tree hollow portion of the site, aside from a small blast released on the third day of the tree-sit.
“The reality of limited resources now necessitates my descent but this is not the last they will see of us. I plan to remain here and fight for this mountain for years to come,” said MacDougal.
The Bee Tree permit is the largest active strip mining permit on Coal River Mountain and is currently up for renewal. At a public hearing held last week by the W.Va. Department of Environmental Protection, about fifty residents showed up to ask questions and submit comments. Many discussed their concern over the health impacts of mountaintop removal, blasting near the Brushy Fork Impoundment, and the destruction of the mountains where they and their families had traditionally hunted, fished, and gathered wild plants.
MacDougal explains that the apparent ineffectiveness of other strategies for citizens to have their concerns with strip mining taken seriously motivated her to take direct action: “I have written letters, tried to educate others, lobbied and volunteered. Yet throughout all of these things, I have felt the frustration of being up against the outrageous power of the coal industry. We do not live within a democracy but within a plutocracy—a government increasingly controlled by economic interests, by state and multi-national corporations.” Indeed, the results of a poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research & Consulting and released earlier this week found that West Virginians actually oppose mountaintop removal mining by a margin of 45:31. ¹
The Coal River Watershed has been decimated by strip mining and mountaintop removal. Nearly a quarter of total land area in the watershed is being mined or permitted to be mined in the future, including over 5,000 acres of Coal River Mountain. Across Central Appalachia, more than 1.2 million acres have been stripped for coal. Recent studies have documented connections between strip mining and a range of health impacts, including birth defects and cancer. ²
Some local residents have expressed strong support for the tree-sit. “I commend Catherine-Ann for her strength and determination to stay in that tree for a month to halt blasting around the Brushy Fork Impoundment,” said Debbie Jarrell, a lifelong resident of Rock Creek, W.Va. “It’s the youth of today that will stop the short-sightedness of mountaintop removal that my generation has allowed.”