“When the profits of coal extraction are gone…”: A Statement from Heather Doyle

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013
posted by mlr

My name is Heather Doyle, and today, with a good friend, I am paddling out onto the massiveUntitled Shumate coal slurry impoundment beneath the Edwight coal mine, above the Coal River valley. We aim to bring awareness to folks in Charleston and beyond about the dirty and poisonous reality of modern coal production that is ravaging the state of West Virginia. I am interfering with business as usual and breaking the law because mountaintop removal coal mining and the coal-mining industry continue to wreak permanent damage and unrelenting suffering on the land and communities of Appalachia. I only know how to respond to this insanity with my small and powerful act of direct defiance.

It is hard for me to imagine the hubris and disregard for life that justifies filling an entire mountain valley with toxic coal slurry, held back by a man-made earthen dam, that may one day break and cause total destruction of people’s lives and homes, and further chaos and disruption even farther downstream. Even without a catastrophic failure, slurry impoundments including the one my friend and I are floating on today concentrate countless heavy metals into areas previously teeming with the diverse life of the Appalachian ecosystem, creating a vast dead zone. These slurry ponds will continue to leak and leach mining runoff and treatment chemicals into the groundwater and streams of the surrounding valleys, irreparably damaging the landscape and the health of communities below. The specter of unsafe coal extraction, irresponsible corporate decisions, and complicit authorities will hang over the people living here for as long as any of us can imagine, and beyond. When the profits of coal extraction are gone, and the coal behemoths have left this state, it is the people of West Virginia who will be left with a destroyed mountain legacy. No ecosystem or valley community can ever reverse the damaging effects of mountaintop removal mining and the associated massive slurry impoundments.

I’m participating in this action in solidarity with the Appalachian people who live every day slowly being poisoned by their own drinking water. These folks are sentenced to the threat of a lifetime of serious and often fatal health problems, the vitality of the land they belong to stolen from them by greedy and violent corporations. Profit is valued exponentially over these people’s lives. Will the folks in power in Charleston stand aside while the people in the hollers suffer so companies can get rich and run?

I do not live in the coalfields of West Virginia, and appreciate that there is much I cannot understand about life in these achingly beautiful hills. But I do know that the communities of central Appalachia are being held hostage by soulless coal companies, ineffective state agencies, and corrupt lawmakers. I have the health and resources to take the risks involved in this action and possible jail time. The struggles I encounter every day as a city-dweller are very different in many ways than those of folks in West Virginia, but today I stand in solidarity with the people determinedly laboring for freedom from extractive industry and ethically bankrupt leaders. I am honored to take on this role in what is a long struggle being fought throughout Appalachia for freedom from corporate control, for mountain culture, for clear streams, high ridges and deep valleys to call home. It is without a doubt a hard struggle, but today I make a choice to act, bolstered by great admiration for the people in Appalachia who have shown me that we have this day to affirm each other and our belonging to this world, to act through love to make this new world possible. For the mountains, for us all, together.

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