Coal Tattoo

Judge shuts down Massey protesters’ arguments


Photo by Antrim Caskey

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Anti-mountaintop removal protesters showed up to court ready to put on a show this morning. Many of the protesters and their supporters were sporting red bandanas as they prepared to argue against a long-term court order against their peaceful civil disobedience campaign.

But Raleigh Circuit Judge Robert Burnside shut down many of the legal arguments the protesters hoped to make, and made it clear he doesn’t want his courtroom to be used to debate the pros and cons of mountaintop removal coal mining.

“The question of whether mountaintop removal should continue is not for the judicial branch to decide and is not before this court,” Burnside said.

Protesters had hoped to talk about mountaintop removal and argue, among other things, that the damage being done to the environment was so great that it justified their trespassing on Massey property to call attention the the issue.

“You can’t just look on while some horrible crime occurs,” said Roger Forman, one of the protesters’ lawyers. “What they are intending to do here to the environment is a criminal act.”

But Burnside ruled that, as a matter of law, that defense isn’t allowed in West Virginia courts.

[Oddly, though, Burnside also expressed his views that “Mountaintop removal mining, as controversial as it is … is a legal activity”  and that regulations governing the coal industry “are most restrictive].

Monday’ s hearing was called for Burnside to consider whether to extend two temporary restraining orders (issued in late February and early March). Massey lawyers want the court orders to block any further protests that involved trespassing and interfering with mining operations.

I had to skip out before today’s hearing ended to take care of some other business in Charleston, and I understand the hearing was scheduled to continue tomorrow. I’ll have more on the matter in tomorrow’s Gazette.