A MOAB a Day, What We Do at CRMW, and How to Help

Jun 22, 2017

The 11-ton “Mother of All Bombs” recently dropped in Afghanistan made headlines, but when that explosive yield is used to blast mountains into dust above Appalachian communities, it’s considered a “small blast” by state regulators. The residents of McDowell Hollow on Coal River Mountain endure the equivalent of at least one MOAB above their homes every day, six days a week, damaging their homes, their health, and their quality of life. Coal companies use the equivalent of 55 MOABs per day in West Virginia and 45 in Kentucky. Over two dozen peer-reviewed scientific studies document the deadly effects in the form of elevated rates of cancer, heart disease, birth defects, and other illnesses.Few groups are still actively working to stop the diabolical process of mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR). The prevalent myth that “King Coal is dead,” based largely on coal company bankruptcies, has served the industry well, diverting attention and resources away from efforts to end MTR. At least one prominent group has claimed victory and declared in a fundraising letter that “mountaintop removal is essentially over.” The truth, however, is that MTR continues to grow and to harm neighboring communities. On Coal River Mountain, for example, formerly bankrupt Alpha Natural Resources has permits for over 10 square miles of destruction active, approved, or pending.For 19 years, Coal River Mountain Watch has stayed true to our mission to stop the destruction of our communities and environment by mountaintop removal mining, to improve the quality of life in our area, and to help rebuild sustainable communities. Ours is a true frontline community, with a photo of our office, a 2,000-acre MTR site, and 2.8-billion-gallon toxic coal waste sludge dam in the same shot. We work in the trenches—literally, hiking the sediment ditches, finding coal company violations, and grappling with WV Dept. of Environmental Protection to enforce the laws meant to protect us.The same company whose lax safety measures caused the 2010 Upper Big Branch disaster that killed 29 miners in our community continues to endanger the community with MTR. Our former executive director, 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Judy Bonds, urged us to “fight harder” until she finally lost to cancer in 2011. Our greatest accomplishment was securing a new school for the kids of Marsh Fork Elementary in a safe location.The old school was next door to a coal preparation plant and the 2,000-acre MTR site and sludge dam just mentioned. While our tactics and campaigns have evolved over the years, we persist in our determination to end mountaintop removal. But we need your financial support to continue our work to keep boots on the ground, eyes in the sky, kids in the creek, and neighbors in the know.


Mystery Murky Messes, Oh My!

Jun 16, 2017

Both major tributaries of the Big Coal River, Marsh Fork and Clear Fork, which form the borders of Coal River Mountain, got a big ol’ dose of nasty pollution on Tuesday, June 13. Horse Creek, which flows into Marsh Fork, had a black, oily mess that looked just like previous spills from Alpha Natural Resources’ treatment ponds at their underground operations at the head of the holler. See the video here. We reported the incident. When the WV Dept. of Environmental Protection inspector showed up, he found the pollution still at the mouth of the creek, but it was clear farther up and there appeared to be no problems at the ANR site. ANR personnel told him they had no spills. Nothing to see here.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the mountain, Clear Fork was running anything but clear. See the video here. The milky gray pollution appeared to originate at an ANR mountaintop removal site on Paint Mountain, across the Clear Fork from Coal River Mountain, but the WVDEP inspector didn’t make it out until the next day. No violations written. More mystery mess. What a day! Ironically (?), the WVDEP was holding a public meeting on water quality standards at the same time. Maybe ANR figured no one would be looking?Horse Creek 6/13/17Clear Fork 6/13/17 (not so clear)


Breaking Laws and Failing to Enforce at WV Dept. of Environmental "Protection"

Jun 16, 2017

When the regulatory agencies that are supposed to protect us have a history of failing, we have to keep an eye on chronic polluter coal companies ourselves. After we complained to federal officials, the West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection admitted that the enforcement procedures required by law “were not adhered to” when they extended a sediment violation deadline. In other words, they broke the law in granting an excessive extension for Alpha Natural Resources to fix their sediment ditch violations above the McDowell Hollow neighborhood on Coal River Mountain. But wait, there’s more. Our boots-on-the-ground folks caught another violation from the same site, where a sediment pond was draining offsite through a culvert. So now, the WVDEP has declared a pattern of violations and is reviewing for possible additional enforcement. But wait, there’s even more.   


Mountaintop Removal Public Health Hearing Update

Jun 2, 2017

On May 23, Coal River Mountain Watch members and friends participated in the public meetings on health impacts of surface mining held by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine at Chief Logan Conference Center in Logan, WV. First, there were three “open session” panels testifying to the NAS committee: state agencies, coal industry, and environmental groups Coal River Mountain Watch with our friends from Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and WV Highlands Conservancy. The evening session was a town hall forum. West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection, the WV Coal Association, and their supporters provided their alternate version of reality. During the town hall forum, one coal supporter said to the scientists, "If coal is making people sick, why am I not sick? Coal is a natural mineral that comes out of the ground--how can it be bad for our health?” We did our best to provide actual facts, including photos of mountaintop removal dust clouds coming down into communities. Read on for more sordid details. Photo by Wendy Johnston


Come to the Mountaintop Removal Public Health Hearing May 23

May 18, 2017

Please come speak at the National Academy of Sciences mountaintop removal health hearing May 23.  The hearing is at Chief Logan Lodge, Hotel, and Conference Center, 1000 Conference Center Drive, Logan, WV 25601. There are two parts. First will be three panels: state agencies, coal industry, and environmental/community groups including Coal River Mountain Watch, running from 12:45 until about 4:00. Then there will be a town hall forum where you have three minutes to speak. You can talk about how mountaintop removal has impacted your health or that of your family and neighbors, or about the stacks of existing scientific studies showing that mountaintop removal is public health threat and needs to end now. More details are below, including registration. The committee is "definitely asking people to register in advance" for time planning and accommodation. Mountaintop removal blasting dust cloud over Marsh Fork Elementary, April 2007 


Surface Mine Board Hearing Result

May 16, 2017

Thanks to everyone who came to show their support at the Surface Mine Board hearing May 9. Knowing that you were, and still are, with us is encouraging in spite of the bad news. The SMB dismissed our appeal of Alpha Natural Resources' 853-acre Long Ridge #1 mountaintop removal permit on Coal River Mountain. The grounds for dismissal were, well, strange. Amazingly, the WV Dept. of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) attorney agreed with the coal company attorney that WVDEP officials should not be relied upon for accurate information. The SMB ruled that CRMW is an "articulate and sophisticated" organization that should know better than to trust the WVDEP permit supervisor and instead know the details of the laws ourselves. We filed our appeal in the time frame that WVDEP told us. Unfortunately, that time frame did not comply with the law, the same law that the WVDEP routinely breaks. Stay tuned for more on this permit and others. We're not done fighting yet. In the meantime, please support our work if you can, and enjoy this photo of the Long Ridge area of Coal River Mountain.

Come to Our Hearing May 9; Show Your Support

May 7, 2017

On Tuesday, May 9, we’ll be in a hearing to argue why the WV Surface Mine Board should hear our appeal of the 853-acre Long Ridge #1 mountaintop removal permit on Coal River Mountain. Please show up if you can and pack the hearing room. The hearing begins at 9:00, but please show up by 8:30 for a possible press conference outside and to make sure you get a seat. The location is the WV Dep. of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) headquarters at 601 57th Street SE, Charleston, WV 25304. There's plenty of parking at the WVDEP and across the street at the Kanawha Mall. Alpha Natural Resources (the coal company) and WVDEP (the enablers) don’t want to allow public participation and have moved to dismiss our appeal before it’s even heard. This isn’t the actual appeal to confirm or reject the permit, just deciding whether the board will hear the appeal. This will be attorneys arguing, not an opportunity for public comment. Alpha’s attorneys are the Jackson Kelly law firm, known for such nastiness as withholding evidence in order to deny black lung benefits to miners and promoting a coal silo next to an elementary school.