May 312012

Marilyn Mullins had a dream and then she acted on it.

Via Facebook, to call for an end to mountaintop removal, she organized a Memorial Day head-shaving event for women at the State Capitol. What a deeply personal sacrifice these beautiful women (and some men standing with them in solidarity) made on behalf of the mountains and people! Mullins said this act of protest was meant to symbolize all that has been sacrificed and forever lost by Appalachians fighting mountaintop removal — barren moonscapes instead of lush mountains, poisoned water, obliterated communities, and people stripped of their homes and health.

I read that ritual head-shaving, a fairly ancient ritual, is part of many religious traditions —Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jain and Hindu. In some religious traditions, head-shaving is an act of devotion or it symbolizes renunciation — renouncing the world for the love of God. In Hinduism, the underlying concept is that hair is a symbolic offering to the gods, representing a real sacrifice of beauty, and in return, those who shave their heads are given blessings in proportion to their sacrifice.

For more than a decade, so many have already sacrificed too much in their efforts to bring mountaintop removal to an end. For some women who led the efforts, like Judy Bonds or Laura Forman, it was the ultimate sacrifice. But neither of them was thinking about or focusing on their own well-being. One of my favorite quotes by Forman still is: “West Virginia is truly almost heaven. She has given so much to my life. How could I not try to help save her?”

At the Funeral for the Mountains in 2001, I remember hearing Bonds say that every mining law in West Virginia had been written in blood, a sad truth. Without dying miners and community members in our southern mountain communities, laws like Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) or the Mine Health Safety Act, would never have come about.

It seems most politicians are moved by either by hefty campaign contributions from the coal industry that insure their re-election or shame when a preventable disaster occurs during their term of office. The 125 lives lost, thousands of homes destroyed and lives disrupted because of the Buffalo Creek disaster shamed Congress into passing SMCRA. The 29 miners who died because of Massey Energy’s negligence and a lack of state and federal regulatory oversight at the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010 has prompted greater scrutiny of underground mines. Bonds, of course, was right; it took blood on the coal and ultimate sacrifice.

I, for one, believe that this self-less, spiritually powerful act of head-shaving has already had a positive impact on the struggle to end mountaintop removal. A news agency reported that the West Virginia Coal Association had no comment. Was that a calculated non-response or was the spokesperson just unable to come up with pithy sound bite?

You don’t have to shave your head to take action to end mountaintop removal. Write a letter to the editor. Sign up for our action alerts. Check back to this blog next week (the week of June 4, 2012) for actions you can take in solidarity with The Alliance for Appalachia’s End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington.

May 312012

What’s worse than mountaintop removal water polluting your Memorial Day Holiday? Possibly “brine water” from fracking operations. To see why, view this YouTube  video and this one, along with the photos posted here.

During Memorial Day weekend, Doddridge County residents tested road puddles made where a gas company truck had just sprayed, reportedly to control dust. Residents living along the roadway shared this report:

The water looked black coming out of the truck, smells horrible, and at three sites along the road:

         • Conductivity: 10,500 – 11,500 range (microSiemens/centimer of water)
         • TDS (Total Dissolved Solids): 8,000 – 9,000 ppm range (microSiemens/centimer of water)
         • Salinity: 6,000 to 7,000 ppm range (microSiemens/centimer of water)

This is unacceptable – children, livestock, and pets live along this road! It can wash into Broad Run. When it dries and starts blowing around — we will be breathing it! Pets may drink it… We do not want our health compromised any longer — we have been dealing with uncontrolled dust for over 2 years, but adding more harmful components for us to breathe is even worse! During our family picnic this holiday weekend my family, including children will be breathing this…

Some citizens fear the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will not consistently follow up on future incidents of gas industry pollution. From past experience, DEP officials don’t come out until days after people call to report an incident. When citizens turn in film footage and/or provide the DEP with time stamped photos — such as photos that document water withdrawals from streams during prohibited withdrawal periods — DEP does not follow up in a timely fashion, if at all. In the case of the incident documented above, the DEP was relatively swift to respond, requiring the gas company to take some clean-up measures, but the agency has yet to provide residents with all the information they have requested concerning the nature of the pollutants that were sprayed onto the roadway.

We have some serious accountability and enforcement issues here in West Virginia! DEP has only 16 state inspectors and 59,000 oil and gas wells to monitor in addition to all the Marcellus drilling activity. Sometimes, citizens wonder “Why don’t they want to watch these guys?”

It is important for residents of all areas where gas drilling work is underway to watch the activities of trucks and the industry closely, and to report all problems noted. Keep a log of the activities you are reporting, with notes on date, time and with whom you spoke. Here are some helpful contact numbers for DEP:

Emergency Spill Line:  800-642-3074
Tom Aluise: 304-926-0499 extension 1338
Dave Belcher: 304-389-7590

Because residents reported this incident immediately, DEP responded in a relatively timely way.  Local news services rarely cover incidents like these in an in-depth manner, if at all, so please circulate this blog widely. Read the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram’s news story on this incident here.

(Three Doddridge county residents provided information for this posting.)

May 312012

OVEC’s photos of mountaintop removal appear on numerous websites, including government websites. They’re on the covers of and inside books, in CD jackets, in newspaper articles, on newsletters and fundraising mailers various groups send out for their end mountaintop removal work. Students from grade school to grad school have used them for papers and projects. Artists have used them in montages, sculptures and weavings.

But this is a first. Check out the three OVEC photos used here.  By the way, this links to what is a parody.

New twist on a widely-disseminated OVEC photo of the destruction of Kayford Mountain.


May 302012

May 30 was Coal River Day, but it’s not too late to take action.  Tell Congress to support Clean Water Act protections for the headwater streams of this important river system in West Virginia.
Read more and take action here.

Mountaintop removal, Shumate toxic sludge dam and Goals Coal Prep plant impact the Coal River near the old Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County, W.Va. Photo by Vivian Stockman; flyover courtesy

May 12012

On May 10, at the West Virginia Woman’s Club in Charleston,  OVEC and our partner organizations, the Loretto Community at the United Nations, the Feminist Task Force of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, and the Civil Society Institute, are organizing and hosting the first ever U. S. Climate Justice Tribunal. Women  throughout Central Appalachia — from southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee — impacted by mountaintop removal and other mining abuses will raise their voices, exposing the impacts of mountaintop removal on their lives, their families and their communities.  And their voices will be heard and amplified beyond our borders: we will present findings from the tribuanl  at the Rio+20 at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil this June.

Right now, please stop reading this and register to atend this event by clicking here.

Someone I know, when hearing that OVEC was organizing a women’s tribunal remarked, “A women’s tribunal?  That sounds kind of dangerous!”  Well yes — it’s likely to be a room full of very fired-up women.  If you’ve been involved in the effort to end mountaintop removal at all, you know that much of the early work to end this outrageous form of mining has been carried out by women (with many good men supporting them).  Not a big surprise, after all the issue is about destroying a part of Mother Earth.

Women in Central Appalachia have been raising their voices for more than a decade calling for an end to this extreme form of mining, yet most state and national decision-makers still turn a deaf ear.  We hope that’s about to change.  Women at this tribunal aren’t going to hold back.  They know that they are unfairly bearing the impacts from mountaintop removal — caring for sick children and other relatives.  How many more cancers, heart attacks or birth defects will happen in the hollow before this abominable mining is halted once and for all?

Women are hauling water because their well water is unfit to drink or poisoned, moving away from the homeplace when mountaintop removal makes life in their mountain community too untenable and dangerous, shoveling mud and cleaning up — again – -from a second or third “100 year flood” in the span of a few years, dodging overloaded coal trucks on a daily basis on narrow, winding roads, cleaning coal dust off the house, the car, the porch, and the furniture.  And then there are the daily blasts — bombing of the mountains, actually (except it’s legal, because the coal company has a permit…).  Shattering nerves and foundations and lowering property values. Then there’s also the incalculable harm to animal and plant communities.

Women have been ostracized and intimidated by mountaintop removal supporters for speaking out publicly, but they haven’t given up.  Some have even been arrested in front of the White House.  Thank goodness, they refuse to sit down and shut up.   And so far,  the mountain destroyers just keep tightening their leashes on their agency lapdogs and tossing campaign cash to politicians who do their bidding.

Can you even imagine the heartache of seeing the place where you were born, where  your mama and daddy were born, where your kids were born, destroyed — annihilated — entire communities wiped off the map?  Streams where you used to dip bare feet in on a hot summer’s day, sit beside for hours, turning over rocks just to watch the crawdads skitter backwards and quickly disappear, now fouled and polluted.  And the giant beech tree, the one where the grandparents carved the big heart to declare their undying love — now gone forever — another victim of “grab and go” coal mining.  A real-life tragedy is happening here — generations of culture and history erased — a nearly unbearable price these women and their families are paying for the nation’s so called “cheap” energy.

My guess is that listening to these testimonies will not be for the feint of heart.  There will be anger, and no doubt tears.  Not only do we (and anyone else we can get to listen) need to hear these women raise their voices of resistance, but also we need you to be in this room lending your support.  The women of Central Appalachia need to know that other people care about what happens to them here.  All of us should realize that this is not just an Appalachian cause, but a cause for national and international concern.  If mountaintop removal goes on unabated here in “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” is there any place on earth safe?

If you haven’t yet registered for the Tribunal, you can register here.

You can learn more about this and other tribunals here
update: Video of Central Appalachian Women’s Tribunal on Climate Justice, May 10