THE MOUNTAINS DOWN - If the Taliban had bombed southern
West Virginia and did this damage, we would be at war.
Massey Coal CEO, Don Blankenship's political slogan is "for
the sake of the children" (Photo by Vivian Stockman)
By Bob Weaver 2007
Environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. flew over the West Virginia coalfields this month to get a better view of mountaintop mining. It was not his first visit.
He said it is "a sight that would sicken most Americans."
Kennedy (photo left) the son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and a nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy has spent most of the past twenty years working on environmental issues.
Kennedy's visit to West Virginia was to continue his message about "Crimes Against Nature" — his 2004 book that says companies commit and governments ignore.
Kennedy's book is being made into a movie, a film that has drawn comparisons to the Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."
Mountaintop removal in West Virginia will be one of Kennedy's environmental outrages in the film.
Kennedy's chief issue is the giant media conglomerates which
are owned by corporate interests who have misused the environment. He says that have abandoned any notion of civic responsibility.
A giant Massey Coal silo and 2.8 billion gallon
sludge dam looms above a rural Raleigh County School (Hur Herald Photo)
Massey claims there's no problem with operations up
against Marsh Fork School, and adding a second
silo (Photo courtesy of Coal River Mountain Watch)
Part of the film will focus on the battle over Massey Coal's huge coal processing plant and waste impoundment near Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County.
Kennedy was encountered by several Marsh Fork woman, supporters of the school and wives of Massey coal miners. They told Kennedy there is no problem with the giant silo looming over the school, emitting dust and waste, nor are they concerned about the 2.8 billion gallon sludge impoundment a short distance up the mountain.
They repeated, "It's about jobs and feeding our family," saying the problem is created by outsiders.
While the number of employed miners have dropped from over 100,000 to less than 15,000 in West Virginia because of cheap mountaintop extraction, the coal outfits have polarized the environmental battle as a job issue.
Kennedy spent time on the creek bank near the school, a stream which rarely sustains life.
Kennedy said mountaintop removal is more than a sound bite. It's a crime against the people of West Virginia. State politicians are "the best money can buy," he said.
His statement came after a recent announcement by Gov. Joe Manchin who said he is cutting in half 300 of the state's protected "clean water" streams, caving into coal lobbyists.
The decision, if sustained, is supporting more mountaintop removal.
Debris from mountaintop removal has filled about 800 miles of streams.
COAL'S UNHOLY MARRIAGE WITH POLITICOS
In a 2001 speech at the University of Charleston, Kennedy called the practice "the worst example of what human beings can do to their environment when they behave irresponsibly."
"If you pollute a creek and a child gets sick, that's child abuse," Kennedy said. "If you pollute air and a child has an asthma attack, that's assault and battery."
Kennedy talks about WV's crimes against nature at the Rebecca Chapel UM Church and signs an autograph for a local citizen (Hur Herald Photos)
He told a gathering near Marsh Fork Elementary School that Massey Coal has received tens of thousands of citations - crimes against nature and the people of West Virginia.
Kennedy says that blowing up mountains and burying streams is taking precious resources that rightly belong to the public and to future generations.
He said if a citizen of the state pollutes a stream or burns a pile of boards that have paint, they're charged and have to pay a fine.
Massey was recently issued fines totaling $2.5 billion, generally taken to court and paid with pennies on the dollar.
More recently, US District Judge John T. Copenhaver Junior decided he needs time to consider sentencing guidelines for Massey regarding violations at White Buck Coal.
In a typical fine situation, the federal guidelines allow $200,000 for the infraction. Massey attorneys are seeking a modest fine of $250-$1000.
In that particular case, shift foreman William Edwin Wine and belt foreman Robert Delmas Bennett pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of faking safety checks at White Buck.
They then agreed to testify against the company.
CRIMES AGAINST NATURE
You simply can't talk honestly about the environment today without criticizing president George W. Bush, said Kennedy, "He will go down as the worst environmental president in our nation's history."
In his book "Crimes Against Nature," Kennedy details how President Bush has rewritten the nation's environmental laws in favor of industry and filled his administration with former lobbyists and corporate executives who now oversee the regulation of their former industries.
Kennedy said, "It's all about money."
"I live in New York State. Most of the fish in New York are now unsafe to eat from mercury contamination. I live two miles from the state of Connecticut; in Connecticut every freshwater fish is now unsafe to eat," Kennedy said.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service announced that in 19 states it is unsafe to regularly eat any freshwater fish, and in 48 states at least some fish are unsafe to eat. The mercury is coming, largely, from those same 1,100 coal-burning power plants."