Mar 292013

After a West Virginia legislative session fraught with bad bills such as the weakening of the selenium standard for streams and making the contents of the toxic fracking fluid a “trade secret,” there were a couple of bright spots this past week.  One of which occurred when The House of Delegates on Monday called for bankrupt Patriot Coal Corp. to honor its promises to around 23,000 retired miners and their families.

A House resolution adopted 93-4 rails against the threatened loss of pension and retiree health benefits.

House Majority Leader Mike Caputo urged support for Monday’s resolution. A senior UMWA officer, the Marion County Democrat described how he and other union members were arrested at a January civil disobedience action in St. Louis.  This is much like environmentalists from groups like RAMPS (Radical Action for Mountain Peoples Survival) who were arrested doing non-violent civil disobedience  at the Peabody office in St. Louis weeks before while protesting the devastating effects of the extraction economy on health, land and culture.

OVEC has supported the Fairness at Patriot campaign since the beginning (, as environmental justice and social justice go hand in hand.  Those working in the coalfields and those living in the coalfields are often the same people, and even when not both, are affected by the corporate malefeasense, greed and dismissal of companies such as Patriot.

Patriot has shown as much distain for its workers as it has for coalfield residents in West Virginia, and our environment, health and heritage.  We salute these Patriots workers, retirees and their families for standing up and saying “Enough!” to exploitive companies like this. We hope to express solidarity with their struggle as we struggle ourselves.  As the old labor adage goes, an injury to one is and injury to all.  We wish them luck on their march on Patriot’s WV headquarters in Charleston this coming Monday.  We hope these workers receive justice, just as we help others (no apostrophe) living in the coalfields seek justice from the likes of Patriot.  As we know from our lawsuit against them for their selenium pollution violations, you must take the fight to them to get results.

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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