Reckoning at Coal River: Media and Nation Must Bear Witness to Coalfield Tragedy This Week
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A historic reckoning is taking place on Coal River in West Virginia this week -- and in Washington, DC on Thursday.
On June 25th, U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, will hold the first bipartisan hearing in a generation to address the impact of mountaintop removal mining operations.
In the meantime, the human rights and constitutional violations of American citizens besieged by ruthless outside coal companies will be on full display to the national media and the nation -- from the shocking and shameful mountaintop removal operations threatening the safety of a school and community in West Virginia, to the transformed halls of the US Congress.
On Tuesday, June 23rd, local coalfield parents and residents will be joined by legendary 88-year-old West Virginia activist Winnie Fox, 94-year-old coal mining hero and former US Congressman Ken Hechler (D-WV), the nation's foremost climatologist James Hansen, actress and long-time environmental activist Daryl Hannah, and director Michael Brune of the national environmental group Rainforest Action Network, on a nonviolent march from Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, West Virginia to a nearby Massey Energy mining site to call attention to the blatant disregard for the safety of the children and community.
The two sides of the Massey bridge over Coal River could not be more distinct -- and a startling wake-up call to the nation.
Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, West Virginia might be the most tragic and symbolic site of American children left behind by their state government.
Forsaken by state officials and a recent WV Supreme Court decision last week, the school and its children must play amid the toxic dust of a coal silo -- and soon a second one -- that sits less than a football field away.
The Marsh Fork Elementary School also sits only a few football fields downslope of a 2.8 billion gallon earthen coal sludge impoundment, where Massey Energy is setting off thousands of pounds of explosives near the dam.
Every school kid in the coalfields knows Massey's reckless history with coal sludge dams.
In a haunting parallel to last December's TVA coal ash disaster, a Massey subsidiary in eastern Kentucky was responsible for the largest coal slurry spill at that point, leaking over 300 million gallons of toxic sludge into the area's waterways and aquifers.
With blasting nearby, if the 380 foot earthen dam above the Marsh Fork school broke, the children and community residents would have less than three minutes to flee.
Based in Richmond, Virginia, Massey Energy has demonstrated a merciless coveting for coal at any expense. At the 2008 4th quarter earnings call, the out-of-state company's president crowed that 2008 was the "most successful" in Massey's history, and their "very aggressive expansion plan" was executed "almost to perfection." The Virginia-based president was "especially pleased" that Massey reached an "all time record high" of $641 million in adjusted annual EBITDA.
Now laying off workers due to market demands, with 19 union-busted Appalachian mining operations valued at $2.6 billion in 2008, the Richmond company shelled out $20 million in penalties for dumping toxic mine waste into the region's waterways in 2008; Massey also paid a record $4.2 million for civil and criminal fines in the death of two coal miners in West Virginia last year.
Besides the obvious environmental tragedy of destroying over 500 American mountains and 1,200 miles of streams through massive explosives and mining waste, four other issues should be noted by the national media: