Coal Tattoo

Anti-coal activist drawing some heat

Coal industry supporters have had some success in pitching negative media stories about the recent upsurge in peaceful civil disobedience protests against mountaintop removal operations in Southern West Virginia.

Two Charleston television stations and one weekly business publication picked up the story of Mike Roselle, a longtime environmental activist and his involvement in the protests.

Roselle was among 14 people who were cited (they got tickets — they were not arrested) in two separate protests earlier this month outside Massey operations in the Coal River Valley.  After the incidents, State Police Sgt. M.T. Baylous said the protesters were very well behaved. “There were no problems — no violence, no confrontations,” Baylous told me. “It was all very peaceful.”

But reports in local media went out of their way to paint the protesters, especially Roselle, as violent.

Proclaimed WCHS-TV:

...the man called an “eco-warrior” by some and an “eco-terrorist” by others promises more lawbreaking if his latest “cause” is ignored…

Reported WSAZ-TV:

A quick search of Roselle’s name on the internet produces pages of accusations that he will go to any length for his cause, vandalism that could put lives in danger. Roselle denies those claims. 

Among the more interesting reports was in the pro-business newsletter, The State Journal:

In his years of direct-action experience, Roselle said, he has always practiced nonviolence methods to forward the environmental movement.

But some Web sites insist Roselle was spiking trees as a member of Earth First! in its early days. Some media reports said Roselle has made statements urging others to do the same.

What Web sites and what media reports?

A copy of Earth First! journal purported to contain the quote was not immediately available as of press time.

But never mind getting the source document:

That quote, reads in part, “This is jihad, pal. Everything, every assumption, every institution needs to be challenged. Now! And more spiking is needed to convey the urgency of the situation!… Go out and get them suckers, fill them full of steel, and I promise you this: you might get caught; you might do some time; your friends might abandon you. But you will never have to spike the same tree twice.

Interestingly, Roselle was also recently interviewed for a piece published by the Nieman Watchdog, a journalism blog by Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation.

Roselle doesn’t make any bones about what he’s after:

Our goal is to shut down mountaintop removal in the Appalachians. Particularly, to stop them from blasting the top of the Coal River Mountain.

Roselle doesn’t get everything right. For example, he misstates the history of Massey Energy (“They’re relative newcomers in the coal business,” he says), and he wrongly paints coal-slurry waste as being more toxic than power plant coal ash.

And unlike the local media, the Nieman Watchdog gave Roselle enough time and space to explain his point of view a little more clearly:

Personally, I believe that we need to transition off fossil fuels, but we realize that it can’t be done overnight. Most of the scientists who study this issue and the serious policy makers who’ve looked at it, see the easiest way to achieve our  greenhouse reduction targets is to shut down at least the antiquated, large coal plants like the Kingston fossil plant and to put the money into conservation and alternatives. I believe the era of coal is coming to a close. There’s just no clean way to burn it. The process creates toxic waste from the mine site to the power plant and then through the stack and the water outlets, it disperses pollutants to the rest of the environment. Oil and gas are not nearly as bad in this respect. So I think the reasonable thing to do is to cut our energy use by 50 percent and quit using electricity from coal. It is something that can be done quickly and the benefits would be great in terms of air and water quality, lower carbon emissions, visibility in our national parks, our fisheries, our soil. The list goes on and on.

Roselle offered some worthwhile, and some not-so-worthwhile suggestions for the media.

First, he said:

The way the story is covered here is that we’re just one side of the argument, you know, that there might be a middle ground. Well, half a poison is not a good thing. There’s not a lot of middle ground out here and when you see what this is doing.

Roselle seems to be saying that the media shouldn’t give anyone who disagrees with him their say. That doesn’t seem very fair-minded to me. It’s just as bad as simply calling him a “radical eco-terrorist” without digging a little deeper to see what he’s all about.

But Roselle also offers this bit of constructive criticism for local media covering mining issues:

My question would be: What gives these people the right to disregard every environmental law and regulation that we have to protect our air and water? We have already laws on the books that, if followed, would make mountain top removal illegal. We need enforcement of these laws. We need stricter interpretation of the regulations.  We need monitoring. None of these ash piles are regulated. The household garbage that you put out on the porch is regulated more than the fly ash and the coal sludge that comes out of these coal burning facilities and the mines. Why do they get a pass when household garbage doesn’t get a pass?

The Clean Water Act and The Clear Air Act were written for a reason and these particular industries were targeted, but with the influence that they have, with the money that goes into the political process, the politicians have refused to stand up to them. They have refused to enforce the law, at least the spirit of the law, and they’ve changed the letter of the law.

[UPDATED:  There were more citations issued Monday outside another Massey Energy Operation, according to the Web site of Roselle’s group, Climate Ground Zero.  ]