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The Growing Political War Surrounding Coal Mining Is a 'Fight About Democracy'

"They’ve destroyed the unions, they’ve beaten up on the environment, they’ve violated federal health and safety standards, to [enrich] ... the executives of the company."

We speak with environmental activist Robert Kennedy, Jr., and filmmaker Bill Haney about the new documentary, The Last Mountain, which premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival. The film chronicles the fight against coal mining across Appalachia and Massey Energy’s devastating practice of mountaintop removal to extract layers of coal. "They have to break the law to do this. They cannot survive in the marketplace without violating the law. They violate labor laws. They violate health and safety laws. And by their own records, they’ve had some 67,000 violations of just one of the environmental statutes," says Kennedy of the coal giant that has tremendous political influence at the state and federal level. “It’s not just about the environmental destruction, it’s also about subverting democracy.”

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a conversation with environmentalist Robert Kennedy, Jr., and filmmaker Bill Haney. I spoke to them at the Sundance Film Festival in January in Park City, Utah, where Bill Haney’s film The Last Mountain premiered. The film looks at coal mining and Massey’s devastating practice of mountaintop removal.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: An explosive power the size of a Hiroshima bomb once a week.

MARIA GUNNOE: They just keep this process up until they literally reduce the mountain to rubble.

BO WEBB: Coal River Mountain is our last great mountain that hasn’t been blasted to ashes.

DR. ALLEN HERSHKOWITZ: Massey Coal, the single most destructive coal mining company in history.

ED WILEY: That’s your coal dust.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: And that’s what the inside of the kids’ lungs are going to look like.

JOE LOVETT: People have had enough, and they’re standing up to the coal company.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: The fight over Coal River Mountain is a fight about democracy.

MARIA GUNNOE: Robert Kennedy, Jr., is lending his voice.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: How can Massey Coal have 60,000 violations, and nobody in the state came and stopped them?

ED WILEY: We want our kid in a safe, new school.

JENNIFER HALL-MASSEY: National average for a brain tumor is one in 100,000. And we have six that live side by side. The only thing we have in common is the fact that we all have well water.

DR. ALLEN HERSHKOWITZ: Mountaintop coal mining is literally threatening the water supplies of tens of millions of people.

MARIA GUNNOE: We live in a very intelligent country that has the ability to create energy without blowing up mountains.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: We’re looking at a proposal now to construct a wind farm in Coal River Mountain.

MARIA GUNNOE: That’s our last mountain. That’s the last one we have.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: Corporations to not want democracy. They want profits.

BO WEBB: They’re bound and determined to knock the mountain down. We’re bound and determined to stop it.

JOE LOVETT: It’s either them or Massey, and Massey’s been winning for a long time.

MARIA GUNNOE: Coal is mean. Coal is cruel. And coal kills. The American people need to find their position. You’re connected to coal, whether you realize it or not. Everybody is connected to this. And everybody is causing it, and everybody’s allowing that.

UNIDENTIFIED: Let them hear your voice in that building back there!

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: If the American people could see it, there would be a revolution in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Coal mining in West Virginia. The film’s director is here, Bill Haney, as well as Robert Kennedy, Jr. He is the founder of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and he is one of the people who is featured in this film. Very important today, as we see the latest report that’s come out on Massey, holding Massey Coal Company responsible for the terrible explosion that took place last year and took the lives of 29 miners.

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