Archive for August, 2013

“I was scared on the impoundment…”: A Statement from Ricki Draper

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013
posted by mlr

Ricki DraperSitting on a slurry impoundment is terrifying. We wore Tyvec suits, respirators, and rubber gloves to protect us from the 2.8 billion gallons  of toxic coal slurry which, according to the Sludge Safety project, can cause “intestinal lesions, neuropathy, kidney and liver failure, cancer, high blood pressure, brittle bones, miscarriages and birth defects.”

Today, as we confronted Alpha directly about the toxicity of coal slurry and the vulnerabilities of impoundments that sit above communities in West Virginia, our friends in Charleston delivered the message to Governor Tomblin personally. Alpha, formerly Massey Energy, has a long history of neglect and abuse of Appalachian communities. When the coal industry dies and Alpha leaves West Virginia, all of their slurry impoundments will stay, leaching into ground water and threatening communities below the dams.

I was scared on the impoundment, but I am more terrified of the coal industry’s continued disregard for human life and land. After taking all of the coal, Alpha will abandon Appalachia in order to find other resources and communities to extract.

Today we call on Governor Tomblin to place community health over his own desire for profits and limit the use of slurry impoundments, reclaim old impoundments adequately, ensure that dams are stable, and improve the regulation process.

“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.

Activists Boat onto Sludge Pond; Confront Gov. Tomblin on Dangers of Coal Sludge

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013
posted by mlr
Two activists boated onto the Shumate Sludge Dam to tell Gov. Tomblin to put Health over Profit

Two activists boated onto the Shumate Sludge Dam to tell Gov. Tomblin to put Health over Profit

Protestor locked to a barrel of black water on the steps of the Governor's Mansion

Protestor locked to a barrel of black water on the steps of the Governor’s Mansion

UPDATE 4:00 p.m.: Our two boaters were arrested by the State Police but released without bail on trespassing citations! Welcome home Ricki and Heather!

UPDATE 1:30 p.m.: The protestor in Charleston has been cut out of the barrel, spilling coal slurry on the steps of the Gov’s mansion after Tomblin refused to meet with Junior Walk. He still has the lock box attached to his arm and the police inform us they are taking him to the hospital to X-ray the lockbox. Our boaters are still on the Shumate Sludge Impoundment!

Charleston, W.Va. – This morning at 7:30 a.m. two activists paddled out onto the 2.8 billion gallon Shumate slurry impoundment in Raleigh County with banners reading, “Slurry Poisons Appalachia” and “Gov. Tomblin, Put Health Over Profit.”  Later this morning, one activist locked himself to a barrel of black water in front of Gov. Tomblin’s mansion in a Tyvek suit reading “Locked to Dirty Water”.   Activists are calling attention to the failure of the state government to protect its citizens from the abuses of the coal industry and the threats posed by coal slurry disposal.

“I grew up in Eunice drinking water poisoned by coal slurry, went to Marsh Fork Elementary under that dam, breathed the dust from that prep plant, and I’ve suffered the lifelong health consequences of that.  These same abuses are taking place today across our great state, and the blame for that lies squarely at the feet of Gov. Tomblin,” said Junior Walk of Rock Creek, W.Va. who attended today’s protest at the Governor’s mansion.

Coal slurry, the toxic byproduct of “washing” impurities out of coal before it is sold, has long been a matter of deep concern for area residents.  Its common disposal methods have created tragic disasters such as poisoning the public water supplies of Prenter and Eunice, W.Va., and slurry floods in Martin County, Ky., and Buffalo Creek, W.Va..  Despite this, evidence mounts that West Virginia regulators continue to fail at adequately regulating impoundments.

Just this year, two Office of Surface Mining (OSM) investigations found serious problems with the WV Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) oversight, both in preventing impoundments from breaking through into underground mines and ensuring proper compaction, a key measure of impoundement safety.  The compaction report revealed that over 75 percent of tests of coal slurry impoundments in West Virginia failed.  In February, the U.S. Department of Labor asked a federal judge to order the immediate shutdown of an impoundment in Barbour County that had not been certified by an engineer for two years, because mine operators were “flouting federal law, ignoring violations and fines, and putting the public at risk.” WVDEP had the ability to shut down this impoundment, but it didn’t until weeks after the Dept. of Labor took action.

DEP’s finances reveal its priorities.  During its 2011 study of the water and health crisis in Prenter, W.Va., the DEP spent over 6 times as much money hiring a private law firm to sue EPA on behalf of the coal industry as it spent on that study.  Meanwhile, Dr. Yorem Eckstein of Kent State University confirmed long held community suspicions that the well water in Prenter had been contaminated with coal slurry based on years of water quality data.  Despite this evidence and extensively documented health problems including high incidence of brain tumors, DEP’s study on Prenter’s water released last year concluded that water was uncontaminated.

“Our politicians and regulators say that it’s safe to dump slurry in our communities, but they don’t want it on their doorstep.  Gov. Tomblin could order to coal industry to install filter presses that would eliminate slurry while creating jobs for less than a dollar a ton,” said Chuck Nelson, retired UWMA coal miner of Glen Daniel, W.Va.  “That’s the way it also goes.  Our Governor puts the interests of the coal industry above the health of our communities.”

There is mounting evidence that coal’s impacts on West Virginia go far beyond coal slurry.  New studies continue to document the damage to community health and water quality from out of control mining, but Gov. Tomblin continues to blindly defend the industry.  Gov. Tomblin has not only ignored the evidence of the coal industry’s impacts on the health of West Virginia communities, he has also rejected calls for alternative economic development in the face of a declining coal industry.  Central Appalachia is in the midst of a steep decline as predicted by many industry analysts.

“I was scared on the impoundment, but I am more terrified of the coal industry’s continued disregard for human life and land. After taking all of the coal, Alpha will abandon Appalachia in order to find other resources and communities to extract,” said Ricki Draper, one of the two activists that boated onto the sludge impoundment.


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