Coal Tattoo

More from (and on) Mike Roselle


(Mike Roselle and James McGuinness halt the movement of coal off Cherry Pond Mountain in Raleigh County, West Virginia. Photo by Antrim Caskey)

Environmental activist Mike Roselle has an interesting piece online at the website of Counterpunch, the great journalism newsletter by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair.

For folks in the coalfields who are wondering about Roselle, and the rumors being spread about him by the coal industry (See Anti-coal activist drawing some heat),  the Counterpunch article is interesting reading. Here’s a taste:

The first time I was on Cherry Pond it was ramp season, and I joined Judy, Bo, Larry and Ed for the much anticipated spring ritual, in which the tasty wild onions are harvested and cooked in butter with potatoes. It was a steep hike through rugged country, and from the ridge you could see Coal River Mountain, the highest peak around, all the way up to Kayford Mountain, which is no more. Kayford Mountain is now a huge pit, where bulldozers, trucks and dynamite can be heard for miles around.

If you drive a few miles north of my house on Highway 3, you can look up Clay’s Branch, the creek that leads to Cherry Pond. It is famous among turkey hunters, mushroom hunters, ginseng pickers and bird watchers. The people who live along Clay’s Branch are used to people driving by their houses, some of which sit so close to the road that they could hand you a beer as you drove by without getting off their porches. This is because the holler is steep, and what little land is flat enough to put a house on is usually right near the road by the creek. You can still see Clay’s Branch today if you drive by, but you won’t see Cherry Pond Mountain.

Cherry Pond is gone.

Last Thursday the US Fourth Circuit Court ruled that Massey Energy and every other mine owner in West Virginia does not have to obey any environmental laws when they dig for coal. That’s right, any of the laws, like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act or the Endangered Species Act. The coal companies are getting away with murder and the court turned the fate of the Appalachian Mountains, the oldest on Earth, to the Army Corps of Engineers and the wholly coal owned West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, an agency that has never denied a mining permit and dose not regulate the permits when they sign off on them.

On a Friday a couple of weeks ago, Massey Energy blew the top off of Cherry Pond Mountain.

Roselle goes on to describe a recent protest by he and another activist, which is shown in this video available on Youtube:

Roselle’s arrival has generated a lot of heat from the media, but not that much light.  A blog called Mountain Journey put it this way:

Since Roselle has been a thorn in the side of destructive industries for a long time, it is no surprise that the web is full of misinformation that discredits his work. When the pro-mountaintop removal forces realized Mike was helping coalfield residents, they were quick to propagate the most outlandish libels they could find on Google.

Sensing an opportunity to turn public opinion against mountain top removal opponents, several media outlets in West Virginia ran specials  warning that an ecoterrorist had moved to the coalfields. The local Fox news outlet even ran a “Roselle Report” and explicitly stated that lives were in danger.

In a recent e-mail exchange with me, Roselle cited Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” as revealing “that it was the moderates, the liberals, the ones who wanted more dialogue that were the targets of his anger. They too criticized King’s tone, not his arguments, on which they all agreed. It’s this tilted dialogue that allows the coal companies to maintain power, and they know it.”

It is also instructive to recall that civil disobedience isn’t exactly a new tactic in the coalfields of Appalachia.


Chad Montrie details the history of the fight against strip mining in his book, “To Save the Land and People.”

My friend and colleague Paul J. Nyden has written  recently about the protests by coal miners that led to passage of landmark black lung legislation.

And the United Mine Workers’ efforts to use peaceful civil disobedience in their strike against Pittston Coal in 1989 were documented as part of Stephen L. Fisher’s book, Fighting Back in Appalachia.

One essay in Fisher’s book was written by and about a group of women who Knott County, Ky., strip mine with a direct action protest in January 1972. Such protests were used especially in Kentucky, where the “broad-form deed” gave mineral owners the rights to strip-mine land without the consent of surface owners.

You know, if the strippers had come through and had shown any kind of compassion or just being half human and went around graveyards and things like that, I’m not sure that it would have ever come to the point that it did.

People may have set back and let them railroad them more. but now people, you don’t go out here and move one of these old-timer’s graves, I mean, you just don’t do it, not in eastern Kentucky, if you want to live. That was one of the things that really raged the warfare on strip mining.

Because people understand at that point that there was no consideration for the people or the property or future generations.