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Next Steps for the Anti-Mountaintop Removal Movement: Activist Bo Webb Speaks Out

Bo Webb has emerged as one of the most important frontline voices in the coalfield justice movement and Webb talks about how we can work to end MTR.

Editor's Note: "Next Steps for the Anti-Mountaintop Removal Movement” will be a series of interviews with affected residents and activists in the central Appalachian coalfields region, including West Virginia leader Bo Webb, Kentuckian Teri Blanton, Kathy Selvage in Virginia, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson in Tennessee, and Appalachian Voices legislative aide JW Randolph in Washington, D.C. While the EPA scrambles to enforce the Clean Water Act and a Republican-controlled Congress attempts to defund strip-mining regulatory measures, and various state agencies continue to be embroiled in Big Coal machinations, millions of pounds of devastating explosives are detonated daily across mountain communities in central Appalachia. As a national movement, what should anti-mountaintop removal activists do next?

Living underneath a mountaintop removal mining operation in the Coal River Valley in West Virginia, Bo Webb has emerged as one of the most important frontline voices in the coalfield justice movement. Winner of the Purpose Prize last year, this coal miner’s son has met with and lobbied EPA and OSMRE officials and members of Congress, made personal appeals to President Obama, co-founded the Mountain Justice movement with Judy Bonds and many others, worked with the Coal River Mountain Watch organization, and organized and led numerous protests, marches and health care campaigns in West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Jeff Biggers: Thanks to years of advocacy and actions by a growing movement, the EPA issued strict guidance rules on mountaintop removal operations last year, which EPA administrator Lisa Jackson acknowledged would end most valley fill operations. Do you think the EPA gone as far as it possibly(and politically) can in “regulating” mountaintop removal or should the EPA still be the focused of lobbying pressure?

Bo Webb: Absolutely not. The EPA can simply enforce the Clean Water Act and end mountaintop removal (MTR) now. They have not addressed, tested, or studied the air quality issue of people beneath these MTR sites being forced to breathe toxic blasting fallout of diesel fuel, ammonium nitrate, silica from blasted sandstone rock nor fungal bacteria that may be uncovered with blasting. In the interest of public health the EPA should immediately place a moratorium on all MTR operations until they can conduct a health study of the long-term effects of MTR on the people in communities beneath these sacrifice zones.

JB: Do you think mountaintop removal mining needs to be framed as only an environmental issue — and thus, attracting more support from mainstream environmental organizations in D.C. and beyond — or as a human rights and health care issue?

BW: It has all too often been framed as an environmental issue and in a sense it is, but far greater than it being an environmental issue it is a human rights issue. I spent my day yesterday in the once town of Lindytown and Twilight, WV. Any reasonable thinking person that should visit this place would conclude that they have witnessed the resulting act of ethnic cleansing.

JB: After years of lobbying and leading protests in Charleston, W.V., and Washington, D.C., where do you think the anti-mountaintop removal movement should focus its funds and energy in the next phase — and more importantly, where should foundations and major fundraising efforts be dedicated?

BW:I believe we have accomplished about all we are going to accomplish in WV and Eastern Kentucky. It is time to move pressure on Washington, D.C., to the likes and persistence they have not seen since the Viet Nam War era. We have organized in these two Appalachian states for 40 years. It is now time to stop organizing and start mobilizing. Mobilizing will in itself work to organize.

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