Winds of Change Newsletter, September 2007 See sidebar for table of contents
Mattea, Kennedy Stunned by Scope of Devastation
by Scott Finn
One of West Virginias most famous musicians is taking center stage in the fight over mountaintop removal mining. Yesterday, two-time Grammy winner and Cross Lanes native Kathy Mattea came home to see firsthand the impact of mountaintop removal mining. What she saw upset and disturbed her. Scott Finn reports.
"Larry Gibsons homeplace on top of Kayford Mountain is surrounded by a huge strip mining operation, and its become a regular stop for people wanting to see the effects of mountaintop removal.
Everything there is coated by a thin layer of rock dust, and you cant escape the sound of dozers and rock trucks at work. This is where Kathy Mattea spent most of a hot, sticky afternoon sitting on a picnic table, listening to the families affected by mountaintop removal. They showed her picture albums of the dirty water, cracked foundations and flooded homeplaces that they blame on mining. She listened, hugged them, and more than once, cried with them.
I didnt know what was going on. I went to make a record of coal mining songs. I saw Al Gore give his PowerPoint presentation. I trained to be a grassroots presenter. They said personalize your slide show any way you want, so I went looking for a picture of a strip mine in West Virginia and found a world I didnt know existed. And so I met some people who said do you want to come see for yourself instead of just looking at pictures and I said yeah... Kathy Mattea
Mattea was invited to see it for herself by filmmaker Mari-Lynn Evans, who is working on one of at least three new documentaries on mountaintop removal. Evans says the time was right for Mattea to get involved.
The visit also was hosted by most of West Virginias environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, which also is helping to sponsor the mountaintop removal documentary. Mattea started her day in the air, flying over mountaintop removal sites. As the flight went on, her questions to the pilot became more and more pointed.
Mattea: Is this reclaimed?
Pilot: Yes, this is reclaimed.
Mattea: I am holding back expletives at the moment. Let me get this straight thats reclaimed.
Pilot: Its having a hard time because we havent had any rain this year.
By the end of the flight, she stopped asking questions and just stared out the tiny window, tears streaming down her face. Then, it was on to Gibsons homeplace, up a dusty, steep road from Cabin Creek in Kanawha County to the top of Kayford Mountain.
Gibson led her up to an overlook where a mountaintop removal site filled the view from left to right. On the left, four bulldozers were pushing rock and dirt up and down a barren mountainside. In the middle, a huge truck, like a dump truck on steroids, hauled rock away from a dragline. On the right was an area that apparently has been reclaimed. Rocks and boulders were sticking out of the hard-packed earth. The grass and weeds grew in isolated clumps. It looked more like the deserts of the West than West Virginia.
. . .Then came the stories. People like Maria Gunnoe of Bob White, who lives in the shadow of a valley fill and blames mining for a flooding her homeplace. Gunnoe has become an outspoken critic of mountaintop removal, at a cost to both her and her family.
"Quite honestly, it does cause ... constant trouble for me and my family. My vehicle gets keyed, I get sand put in my gas tank, Ive had my brake lines vandalized, my kids harassed. Yeah, its caused me a lot of trouble. But I tell you what let me put that valley fill in their backyard, and see how they feel about it"
OVEC Organizer Maria Gunnoe
"Im just listening and looking, you know ... I walk around thinking Ive got a house in Tennessee thats burning some of this coal right now. The problem is big. Its humbling and its infuriating and its heartbreaking ... What if you knew every time you flipped on a light switch, a mountaintop in West Virginia just blows up? Its crazy." Kathy Mattea
Just one week after Kathy Mattea wept upon seeing mountaintop removal, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. came here for three days to film for his "Crimes Against Nature" documentary, based on his book of the same name.
The film crew shot footage of Kennedy in conversation with several OVEC members.
Like Mattea, Kennedy saw mountaintop removal from Kayford Mountain and also from the air, taking a flyover with SouthWings.
"This is the worst stuff Ive seen anywhere," Kennedy said. And, as an environmental attorney, Kennedy has seen far too many human-perpetrated environmental disasters. "If the American people could see it, it would cause a revolution. If a foreign enemy had done to this country what this industry has done to West Virginia, it would be
regarded as an act of war."
As part of his visit, Kennedy addressed a crowd of about 100 folks at the Rebecca Chapel in Rock Creek, Raleigh County. After dining the night before with WV Coal Association President Bill Raney, Kennedy had questions for Raney he shared with the crowd.
"If these are your people, and you care so deeply about these people and these jobs these 15,000 jobs where were you when they brought the draglines into the state and fired another 100,000?
"(Raney) is willing to stand up to environmentalists, hes willing to stand up to the communities who are impoverished or alienated, or powerless, . . .but he does not have the guts to stand up to these companies that are employing him and paying his salary who are the real culprits in depriving this state of all those jobs."
Kennedy noted that the mountaintop removal is not just erosion of the mountains its erosion of democracy.
"When the EPA tries to stop (the coal industry) with 59,000 . . . violations, they are breaking the law every single day This is criminal racketeering. It is a conspiracy to break the law, and the only way that they can get away with it is because they have corrupted the political processtheyve bought themselves a system where the law is not enforced."
Julia Sendor, A Mountain Justice Summer volunteer working with Coal River Mountain Watch, described the question and answer session following Kennedys speech:
When Kennedy handed over the mike to the public the question pressed: What will it take for the law to give mountaintop removal its true conviction?
Maria Gunnoe asked if Kennedy supported an Appalachian uprising (He said yes!)
Kennedy acknowledged the difficulty of the task ahead, citing media corruption and campaign finance reform as two of the key issues impacting the fight for justice in West Virginia.
He added, "This is the most important fight thats going on in America, because if these companies steal West Virginia, theyre gonna steal the country next."