Coal Tattoo

Interior drops appeal of Blair Mountain ruling

Blair Mountain


Word out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is that the Interior Department has dropped its challenge of a recent lower court ruling in favor of citizens and organizations trying to keep Blair Mountain listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Department of Justice lawyers for Interior’s National Park Service and the Keeper of the National Register filed this motion to voluntarily dismiss their appeal.

Readers may recall this ruling from April in which a district court judge vacated the Keeper’s decision to remove Blair Mountain from the register.

UPDATED:  Here’s a statement from the National Park Service:

The National Park Service decided to accept the district court’s April 11, 2016, ruling and to implement the court’s remand order by revisiting its December 2009 decision to de-list the Blair Mountain Battlefield site from the National Register of Historic Places.

Corps seeks comments on Blair Mountain mining

In this June 6, 2011 photo, this historical marker along W.Va. Route 17 in Blair, W.Va., is the only visible sign of the 1921 battle here between thousands of armed, unionizing coal miners and the thousands of law enforcement officers and security guards hired to defeat them. At least 16 men died on the mountain, which could be turned into a strip mine. (AP Photo/Vicki Smith)

There’s a new public notice out from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that looks pretty interesting:

The purpose of this Public Notice is to identify consulting parties who would be interested in assisting with the development of a Programmatic Agreement (PA) that would govern the implementation of the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) responsibilities under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) for undertakings that may affect the Blair Mountain Battlefield, a historic property.  The scope of the proposed PA would be limited to requests for Department of the Army (DA) authorizations submitted by the three applicants listed below for projects that would be subject to the Corps’ regulatory authorities under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA) of 1899 and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The applicants are: WPP LLC, Aracoma Coal Co. (Alpha Natural Resources) and Mingo Logan Coal Company (Arch Coal).

The notice goes on to say:

The Blair Mountain Battlefield is an approximate 1700-acre district located in Logan County, West Virginia. The Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places has determined the Blair Mountain Battlefield is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The applicants have requested the Corps negotiate a PA in accordance with 33 CFR 800.14 for activities that meet all three of the following criteria:

a) the activity is proposed by one or more of the applicants listed above;

b) the activity would require DA authorization; and

c) the activity may affect the Blair Mountain Battlefield.

This PA would describe the procedures that would be followed to implement Section 106 of the NHPA for any Corps undertaking that meets all three of the criteria listed above. The purpose of the PA would be to establish a program for consultation, review and compliance with Section 106 of the NHPA when agreed upon criteria are met and procedures are followed.

Comments are due by Aug. 11 to this address:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

ATTN: CELRH-RD-E, Blair Mountain PA

502 8th Street

Huntington, West Virginia 25701-2070

In this June 6, 2011 photo, this historical marker along W.Va. Route 17 in Blair, W.Va., is the only visible sign of the 1921 battle here between thousands of armed, unionizing coal miners and the thousands of law enforcement officers and security guards hired to defeat them. At least 16 men died on the mountain, which could be turned into a strip mine. (AP Photo/Vicki Smith)

Word just in today that a federal judge in Washington, D.C., has ruled against the Sierra Club and other groups in their efforts to have Blair Mountain returned to the National Register of Historic Places.

I’ve posted a copy of the ruling by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton here, but in short, the judge ruled that the citizen groups could not meet one of the requirements to show “standing” to bring the case, that of “redressability,” or that a favorable ruling from the court would redress their injury. The judge explained:

It is likely, therefore, that surface mining would be permitted on the Blair Mountain Battlefield as a result of permits that were acquired prior to the historic district’s inclusion on the National Register. An order from this Court restoring the Blair Mountain Battlefield to the National Register, therefore, will not prevent mining from occurring should the coal mining companies who own existing permits choose to exercise their rights afforded by the permits. The Court having only a limited ability to redress the plaintiffs’ asserted injuries, the plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden under the final prong of the standing inquiry.

Update on Blair Mountain mining activities

In the absence of any additional information — any information, actually — from the folks at Arch Coal, I thought I would pass along a report just in from Brandon Nida at the Friends of Blair Mountain. Here it is:

Developments at Blair Mountain (Feb. 13 2012)

This report is a write-up of the most current observations. It concentrates on only two permits. It does not cover the Camp Branch permit owned by Alpha Natural Resources. It is important to realize there is a distinction between the National Register Battlefield Boundaries (NRBB) [See here for copies of maps], and the actual battlefield area. The NRBB is an arbitrary line that initially encompassed 20,000 acres, then 3200 acres, and now has been scaled back to 1600 acres. It excludes many of the property owners in Blair, and does not fully encompass the areas where combatants maneuvered. In reality, the Camp Branch, Left Fork, and Bumbo No. 2 permits are operating at different stages and irrevocably impacting the Blair Mountain battlefield.

Left Fork (S508187):

At the Left Fork surface mine permit, Arch Coal has completely cleared and begun blasting and coal removal on the 50.3 acre addition that was granted in May 2011. This area is directly adjacent to and within the viewshed of the National Register boundary. This permit addition was strongly protested by the WV State Historic Preservation officer, the letter of which can be seen at this link. Even against this strong objection, the DEP approved this permit without mitigating or researching the archaeological resources.

This area has not had thorough archaeological work performed, and so any information about the role this section played in the overall battle dynamics is lost. Both historical and limited archaeological work indicate that the Left Fork vector was a major vector of miner movement, and firefights occurred on the battle line along the section of the ridge leading to the Left Fork.

Bumbo No. 2 (S504991)

Upon investigation, Arch Coal is currently conducting blasting operations on the Bumbo #2 permit, and preparation work for further blasting has been clearly seen. There is currently no evidence that coal extraction is beginning on Bumbo #2. The current blasting would not be a logical beginning to large scale activity. The overall mining plan calls for operations to begin near the mouth of Wolfpen Branch on the north side of Bumbo #2 permit. No evidence of activity was seen in that area. But, it seems this highwall reclamation is one step in the process for operations to be able to begin.

Continue reading…

Update: Arch says mining not imminent at Blair

Arch Coal hasn’t responded to my requests for comment about what’s going on down at Blair Mountain, but they did apparently provide a statement to the folks at E & E’s Greenwire … here’s what is being reported by that subscription-only publication:

Arch spokeswoman Kim Link dismissed the concerns that mining activity is imminent.

“We are not currently conducting any mining-related activities in the area in question,” she wrote in an email, “and we have no immediate plans to do so.”

What’s going on at Blair Mountain?

Well, the folks at the Sierra Club just issued a press release headlined, “Is Arch Coal About to Mine Historic Blair Mountain? Local and National Groups Rally to Townspeople’s Defense.” They say:

Residents of Blair, West Virginia have noticed increased activity from mining company Arch Coal around the historic Blair Mountain Battlefield site. Members of the town have become more and more concerned about Arch’s activities and fear they are moving forward with plans to mine the Blair Battlefield site. There have been reports of proposed buy outs of resident’s property, increasing industrial activity in the area and other preparations indicative of a move towards mining operations on the battlefield itself. Blair Mountain is the site of the largest civil insurrection in American history since the Civil War. In 1921 more than 10,000 coal miners fought forces backed by mining interests in an attempt to organize unions in Logan and Mingo County.

It’s interesting … because nearly a dozen people I’ve talked to today — including some with close ties to the Sierra Club and other environmental groups — have told me when I asked that they don’t really know what’s going on. Even local folks who are watching developments very closely aren’t sure that the increased activity is any indication that strip-mining of the site is imminent. (One even told me it’s possible that the movement is in preparation for planned longwall mining underground).

I first heard about this yesterday from filmmaker-activist Mari-Lynn Evans, who told me to get more information from retired miner-activist Joe Stanley. And Joe told me I should really talk to Brandon Nida, the executive director of Friends of Blair Mountain. I talked to Brandon today, and what he told me he’s witnessed himself and heard from residents was pretty close to what the Sierra Club recounted in its press release:

There’s been a huge amount of activity in Blair, with equipment and logging trucks. It does look like Arch is going to be doing something.

Continue reading…

Big Blair Mountain rally set for Tuesday

Here’s the latest from the Friends of Blair Mountain:

On November 1st, a variety of citizens are coming together to raise awareness of the Battle of Blair Mountain and to call on our state agencies and politicians to preserve the Blair Mountain battlefield and develop it as the significant national historic site that it truly is.

In 1921, ten thousand coalminers joined together to fight for their basic human rights to live and work in safe conditions. They fought for five days on the steep ridges of Blair Mountain until finally federal troops quelled the conflict peacefully.

Currently, Blair Mountain is threatened by imminent destruction from MTR, an extremely destructive form of coal extraction. A broad range of citizens including community members, union coalminers, environmentalists, academics, and many other people have been working to preserve the battlefield.

We have already taken constructive steps to show that heritage tourism is profitable, with the establishment of Coal Country Tours that features Blair Mountain as a stop along a multi-day tour through the coalfields. We have also established a Community Center and Museum in the town of Blair, WV, to celebrate the struggles of coalminers at Blair Mountain as well as larger coalfield culture.

We will continue to build local business around the Blair Mountain battlefield, and to continue to honor the heritage of coal mining families. With this press conference and rally at the State Historic Preservation office at the Cultural Center, we are asking our state government to step up and help us preserve and develop Blair Mountain.

We realize it is a difficult political decision due to pressure from the coal industry, but is it one that will preserve a piece of heritage for future generations as well as building local business now. We believe that with all of us working together we can come up with a viable solution where the jobs of coalminers are protected, new and diverse business opportunities are generated in the communities around the battlefield and coal companies can still underground mine the battlefield.

Come join us on November 1, 2011, at 12:00 as we discuss the importance of Blair Mountain and present a petition with over 26,000 signatures from people around the world to the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Officer. Speakers will include noted scholars, mining families, activists, and community members. All are welcome to attend.

Blair Mountain, climate science and strip-mine spin

There were a couple of interesting coal-related commentaries in the West Virginia and Kentucky papers over the weekend that are worth a look and some brief discussion.

First, archeologist Harvard Ayers wrote in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail about the continuing controversy over the CNN special on mountaintop removal.  Harvard points out that, while CNN titled its show Battle for Blair Mountain, some of the more interesting things about the current fight over the historic site went unreported:

The national audience for this prime-time show can be forgiven if they still wondered at the end of the feature what this struggle of brave coal miners fighting and dying on Blair Mountain was, and why this has any relevance today.

Instead, host Soledad O’Brien and the producers of the feature presented something that would more properly be titled, “Stopping Mountaintop Removal Costs Coal Jobs.” Using the decades-old industry excuse for destroying communities and mountains of “environmentalists versus jobs,” CNN insulted the people of the coalfields of Appalachia. They pitted the logic of stopping this incredibly destructive mining practice of mountaintop removal against the emotional plea of a family who would lose a job, and who had no concern at all for impacts on their neighbors and their mountains.

Harvard goes on:

The actual “Battle ‘for’ Blair Mountain” is a fascinating story that has little to do with environmentalists or jobs. It begins with the original 1921 battle itself, and the reasons the coal miners were eager to lay their lives on the line. West Virginia coal companies, unlike companies in Illinois and other nearby states, hated unions. The reason? You guessed it — cutting corners on safety and labor costs maximizes profits.

Over in Kentucky, my friend Al Cross, a former Courier-Journal political writer who now directs the Institute for Rural Journalism at U.K., had an interesting commentary called Right, left both deceive. He starts off taken GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry to task for his statements questioning the science of global warming:

That’s balderdash. At least 97 percent of scientists who regularly publish peer-reviewed climate research believe the earth is warming and that human activities are a contributing factor. The only real debates are over how much, and the likely timeline for future warming.

There is no proof that climate scientists have manipulated data to get more money for research, or to prove the earth is warming. The much-ballyhooed “climategate” involving some top climate scientists was based on emails that “show they stonewalled skeptics and discussed hiding data — but the messages don’t support claims that the science of global warming was faked,” The Associated Press reported in 2009, based on an evaluation by the director of scientific freedom, responsibility and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

A series of official investigations have found likewise. In the most recent, the National Science Foundation announced this month that its inspector general found no misconduct by a leading climate scientist who was the main author of the 2008 study that showed a big, recent spike in Northern Hemisphere temperatures. Another study published this year confirmed those findings.

Then, Al writes that “message machines on the left can mislead, too.” His example? The recent environmental group-funded poll examining public opinion about mountaintop removal among residents of  West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Al writes:

We saw that this month, as Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and The Appalachian Mountain Advocates released a poll of likely voters in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia on mountaintop-removal mining. Their news release was headlined “New Poll Finds Powerful Opposition to Mountaintop Removal Mining in the Heart of Coal Country,” and referred to “voters across Appalachia” and “the heart of Appalachia.”

Those lines were balderdash, too. The “powerful opposition” was in the four states as a whole, with 57 percent against mountaintop removal and 20 percent supporting it, but in the main region where mountaintops are being mined and removed, Eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, the results were quite different.

Continue reading…

Mixed narrative: More on CNN and Blair Mountain


It’s been more interesting to watch the reactions to CNN’s highly-promoted piece on Blair Mountain and mountaintop removal than it was to watch the show itself.

Initially, some environmental groups — especially Appalachian Voices — were promoting the heck out of this show. Many folks I heard from, including the Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden, had kind words for the piece. In the comments section of Coal Tattoo last week, photojournalist Antrim Caskey, who has been documenting the movement against mountaintop removal, had this to say about Soledad O’Brien’s work on the Battle for Blair Mountain:

She is fresh, very different from say, Diane Sawyer; O’Brien is friendly when she calls people out on some of the outrageous lines they say, in an effort to get to the real facts.

Just like Bill Haney’s film, The Last Mountain, with RFK Jr, the CNN piece goes to great lengths to suss out each “side” and as a result is very fair. Very fair, giving both “sides” their say.

But even before the piece aired last night, some in the environmental community were criticizing it. Melissa Waage of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote on an NRDC blog:

… Crucial voices are missing from this piece, and it relies far too heavily on a clunky, over-simplified “us vs. them” theme. Somehow the show manages to acknowledge the facts about mountaintop removal actually killing jobs, yet still shoehorn the story into a factually unsupported “jobs. vs. the environment” frame.

Virtually unheard in The Battle for Blair Mountain are the many people who have been most deeply, personally harmed by mountaintop removal mining, through physical illness, life-threatening flooding, and livelihood-destroying damage to their homeplaces.

And now, Matt Wasson at Appalachian Voices is criticizing the piece in a “Fact Check” item on his group’s blog:

While O’Brien and her crew were able to tell both sides of the debate in compelling and emotionally powerful ways, the documentary suffered from the same flaw that just about every environmental story CNN has ever done suffers from: it is presented in a “jobs vs environment” frame that is devoid of any actual analysis of whether that frame is appropriate.

And my good friend Bob Kincaid from Coal River Mountain Watch tweeted last night:

@CNN swings and misses w/ #MTR special. It’s not “jobs vs. environmentalists.” It’s OUR LIFE vs. death from coal profiteers.

Never one to be subtle, Bob also tweeted:

Up Next on CNN!: Drug dealers vs. Schoolchildren. Who’s right?

Was it really that bad? Not really. In truth, the CNN piece provided, as I mentioned on Friday, a pretty balanced overview of the different sides of this story. As I also mentioned, Joe Atkins at Facing South made some good points in an essay called Where’s the passion and the justice in CNN’s Blair Mountain documentary?

And actually, CNN gave a fair amount of time to a detailed discussion of the findings of West Virginia University’s Michael Hendryx, whose work has detailed the growing science about mountaintop removal’s damaging impacts on public health in the region. And through University of Maryland biologist Margaret Palmer and Marshall University’s Scott Simonton, the CNN piece did a pretty good job on the science of how mountaintop removal harms the environment.

Continue reading…

On the heels of last week’s demand for an investigation of  what the United Mine Workers alleges are misleading coal exhibits at the West Virginia State Museum, citizen groups have now sued the state Department of Environmental Protection over its refusal to consider “lands unsuitable for mining” protections for historic Blair Mountain in Logan County.

As The Associated Press reported:

Several groups that couldn’t convince state regulators to declare Logan County’s Blair Mountain unsuitable for mining are taking their case to Kanawha Circuit Court.

In a complaint Thursday, they asked the court to force the state Department of Environmental Protection to accept their June petition and hold a hearing.

“DEP can’t just skip the public hearing because it’s more convenient for them to do so,” argued Bill Price of the Sierra Club. “… Blair Mountain belongs to all West Virginians, and all West Virginians have a right to weigh in.”

Recall that WVDEP’s mining director, Tom Clarke, declared the citizens’ petition “frivolous” and refused to even process it — let alone hold a public hearing and examine the matter in any detail. In his letter responding to the original petition, Clarke wrote:

A significant portion of the lands identified in your petition has been affected in the past and continued to be affected by oil and gas and logging operations. These activities have great potential to adversely affect the historic integrity of the lands you have identified. A declaration that the lands you have identified are unsuitable for mining would not effectively protect the historic integrity of these lands because it would have no effect on oil and gas and logging operations.

Because I am rejecting your petition as frivolous, no other findings are being made with respect to it.

Barbara Rasmussen, a historian and President of Friends of Blair
Mountain, responded:

Since the 1991 petitions were submitted, a number of new and significant facts have come to light. The exact area for which we had requested unsuitability status is ‘eligible for listing’ on the National Register of historic places, and multiple professionalarchaeological and historical surveys have been completed, which led to the discovery of 15 previously unknown battle sites at Blair Mountain.

And Cindy Rank, mining chair of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, said:

For DEP to dismiss the entire petition because some minor portion of the petition boundary might be ineligible due to prior permitting ignores the value and eligibility of the other 70% of the Battlefield. DEP’s response is an affront to the very intent of the Surface Mine Act, which provides a mechanism to protect important historical sites like Blair Mountain.


In related news, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., has denied a request from the Department of Interior to transfer a case challenging the removal of Blair Mountain from the National Register of Historic Places to a federal court in West Virginia.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton noted the “national significance” of the issue. I’ve posted a copy of the ruling here.


WVDEP: Blair Mountain petition ‘frivolous’

Update: The Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden has a full story on this development in today’s paper. It’s online here.

This just in: The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has responded to the petition filed in early June seeking to protect Blair Mountain by having the area declared “unsuitable for mining” under the strip-mining law.

WVDEP’s answer to the petition filed by the Sierra Club, along with labor and historic preservation groups?

The petition is “frivolous”.

That’s right, in this three-page letter to Derek Teaney at the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, from Tom Clarke, director of the WVDEP Division of Mining and Reclamation.

Tom’s writes that a “significant portion” of the area has already been mined or was part of previous petitions for lands unsuitable declarations.  In addition, the WVDEP letter adds:

A significant portion of the lands identified in your petition has been affected in the past and continued to be affected by oil and gas and logging operations. These activities have great potential to adversely affect the historic integrity of the lands you have identified. A declaration that the lands you have identified are unsuitable for mining would not effectively protect the historic integrity of these lands because it would have no effect on oil and gas and logging operations.

Tom Clarke’s letter concludes:

Because I am rejecting your petition as frivolous, no other findings are being made with respect to it.

So, as far as WVDEP is concerned … that’s the end of the story.

Alpha speaks on Blair Mountain strip-mining

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal by Kris Maher has the first comments I’ve seen from Alpha Natural Resources about the future of Blair Mountain:

Alpha Natural Resources Inc. of Abingdon, Va., said it doesn’t intend to conduct mountain-top removal in the historic battleground area, but acquired one active operation outside the 1,600-acre boundary when it bought Massey Energy.

“We agree that Blair Mountain is an area of historical significance, and an appropriate commemoration of the 1921 events ought to be considered,” said Alpha spokesman Ted Pile. But, he added, a commemoration shouldn’t “abrogate the legal rights of the many property owners and leaseholders in the area.”

Gazette photos by Lawrence Pierce

The Blair Mountain marchers entered their third day today on their trek through Boone and Logan counties, and apparently their effort has run into some problems — and some not-so unexpected opposition to their cause.

The Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden reports in today’s paper:

They originally planned to spend Monday night at John Slack Park in Racine, but Boone County Sheriff Rodney Miller told the marchers Monday evening they had to leave the site.

… The marchers ended up walking about 15 miles Tuesday, from Racine to a small park near the intersection of W.Va. 3 and Corridor G, just north of Danville.

They stopped briefly at about 2 p.m. outside the grounds of the Boone Career and Technical Center, part of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College near the town of Foster.

They originally planned to spend Tuesday night on the school’s grounds, but were told by college officials they could not do that.

Rodney Smith, an administrator at the college, said on Tuesday he did not know why the marchers were told they could not stay.

“But we don’t have much grass. Big Earl’s Campground [about five miles north, near Julian] volunteered to let them stay there,” Smith said.

But Stanley said the marchers were told they could not stay there either, and they would have to take shuttles back to Marmet to spend another night there Tuesday.

Interestingly, I had a couple calls from anti-mountaintop removal activists who were really charged up about all of this, alleging that “coal thugs” had injured some of the marchers and stuff like that … at least according to the march’s own website, it thankfully doesn’t appear that any of that was true:

Monday night around 10 oclock the County Commissioner of Boone came to the park to order us to leave the park, overriding prior verbal permission and said that if the Marchers did not leave the park all marchers would be arrested. A small group of vocal counter-protesters added tension to the situation. Police worked with the marchers to evacuate John Slack Park safely.

We decided to leave because we aren’t marching to take a stand at this park, or confront the Boone County Commissioner; we’re here to March on Blair Mountain, confront coal industry power, and demand preservation of Blair Mountain, it’s history, and end MTR.

Continue reading…

Blair Mountain March gets started

In this June 6, 2011 photo, this historical marker along W.Va. Route 17 in Blair, W.Va., is the only visible sign of the 1921 battle here between thousands of armed, unionizing coal miners and the thousands of law enforcement officers and security guards hired to defeat them. At least 16 men died on the mountain, which could be turned into a strip mine. (AP Photo/Vicki Smith)

My buddy Dr. Paul Nyden on Sunday previewed the start of the March on Blair Mountain:

More than 600 people are expected to begin a 50-mile march from Marmet to Blair Mountain on Monday to protest mountaintop removal mining.

The five-day event comes close to the 90th anniversary of the historic Battle of Blair Mountain, where more than 10,000 union miners marched from Marmet to help organize non-union coal mines in Logan and Mingo counties.

In 1921, the march from Aug. 24 through Sept. 4 was the largest armed confrontation in United States labor history. It ended when federal troops were sent into the area.

This year’s event is “to demand sustainable job creation in all Appalachian communities, abolish mountaintop removal, strengthen labor rights and preserve Blair Mountain,” the groups Appalachia Rising and the Blair Mountain Coalition said on the march website.

Continue reading…

New petition seeks to protect Blair Mountain

This just in via press release:

A broad coalition of community, environmental, historic preservation and labor history groups filed a petition today to protect the site of the largest civil uprising in America after the Civil War from surface coal mining. The petition was filed today by the Sierra Club, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Friends of Blair Mountain, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Labor History Association, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. It states that the Blair Mountain Battlefield should be deemed unsuitable for surface coal mining by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection due to its historical significance, natural beauty and the important archaeological sites located there.

Blair Mountain was the site of a historic clash between coal miners seeking to unionize and management and local law enforcement that put a violent end to their efforts. From August 25 to September 2, 1921, the two sides fought a series of violent battles. This significant event in the history of the U.S. labor movement was only brought to a close by the intervention of federal troops by Presidential order. Last year, Blair Mountain was removed from the National Register of Historic Places.

“Blair Mountain is a critical piece of West Virginia’s history,” said Bill Price, a local Sierra Club organizer. “It should stand as a historic reminder of the sacrifices that miners were forced to make to fuel America and should be protected from destructive, unsustainable and job killing mountain top removal mining.”

From June 6-11, activists from across the country will converge on Blair Mountain to re-enact the historic miners’ march to celebrate the 90th anniversary. The march will culminate in a rally to call for an end to mountaintop removal mining, support of labor rights, the preservation of Blair Mountain and sustainable job creation.

“This is more than a West Virginian crisis. This is an environmental crisis and a historical crisis,” said Barbara Rasmussen, president of Friends of Blair Mountain. “Every person in America who has a steady job, a decent wage, and health and retirement benefits owes his or her well being to the brave miners who stood to demand basic human dignity, human rights and safe working conditions in the coal mining industry. Sid Hatfield and the other men who died for workers’ rights in the coal fields and elsewhere deserve the respect that will come from commemorating this mountain as the profoundly historically significant place that it is. I believe it is a terrible act of social violence to tear down other people’s monuments, particularly when they can never be restored. Blair Mountain should be sacred to working people everywhere.”

Continue reading…

More legal news that I didn’t get to on Friday: The United Mine Workers of America union has filed a motion asking to have its say in the Sierra Club’s lawsuit seeking to put Blair Mountain back on the National Register of Historic Places.

In their motion, lawyers for the UMWA explain the significance of the 1921 battle:

Though the UMWA miners who marked to Blair Mountain were defeated in battle, their stand paved the way for legislative and collective bargaining achievements in the first half of the twentieth century that helped build the American middle class.

The Battle of Blair Mountain was perhaps the most significant of a number of episodes of  “industrial strife and unrest” that Congress eventually sought to prevent by creating a legal framework for worker organization and peaceful resolution of industrial disputes.

And in their proposed “friend of the court” brief, the UMWA lawyers back the Sierra Club’s view that “powerful coal companies have undermined the process for nomination of Blair Mountain Battlefield to the National Register”:

It is beyond dispute that powerful coal companies continue to wield considerable influence over the economy and politics in West Virginia and beyond. Indeed, the instant matter demonstrates that the present-day administration of federal statutes in the state is not immune from such influence.

I’ve posted the UMWA’s court documents here.

UPDATED:  Here’s a link to Dr. Paul Nyden’s Gazette story about this Blair Mountain march announcement.

The folks from the Friends of Blair Mountain are set to announce later today their plans for a “a massive non-violent five-day march” from Marmet to Logan County to call attention to their efforts to preserve the site of the 1921 labor battle.

According to a press advisory about today’s event:

Speakers will include: Denise Giardina, acclaimed Appalachian writer; Mari-Lynn Evans, 2010 Appalachian filmmaker of the Year; Ken Hechler, statesman and former WV Secretary of State; Chuck Nelson, activist and retired UMWA miner; Terry Steele, retired UMWA miner; Wilma Steele, Mingo County art teacher; Chuck Keeney, professor at Southern WV Community and Technical College, great-grandson of famed UMWA Leader Frank Keeney; Jesse Johnson, Executive Committee member and former chair of the environmentalist Mountain Party; Mickey McCoy, member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and former Mayor of Inez, Kentucky; and Paul Corbit Brown, photojournalist and Frontline Human Rights Defenders Top 100 Human Rights Defenders in the World.

The march itself is scheduled for early June, and the news advisory explained it this way:

March planners believe that current plans to mountaintop removal mine Blair Mountain would dishonor the memory of the miners who sacrificed their lives for the right to collectively bargain. Citizens and organizers assert that if mining permits move forward on Blair Mountain, the most significant heritage site in Appalachia will be destroyed and the communities around Blair Mountain will be irreparably and adversely affected.

Citizens will march in support of preserving Blair Mountain and abolishing mountaintop removal in all of Appalachia. The march is additionally planned in support of strengthening labor rights nationwide and investing in sustainable job creation for all communities.

You can watch today’s announcement via live Web streaming here.

Historians urge protection for Blair Mountain

A collection of respected historians, authors and artists has put together a petition urging protection for Blair Mountain. Among those involved are historian Ron Lewis, filmmakers Barbara Kopple and John Sayles, and singer Hazel Dickens. Here’s the text of the petition:

As citizens concerned with the faithful representation of America’s rich and often turbulent national history, and as scholars and artists whose work has touched upon the history of coal mining labor in West Virginia and beyond, we write to express our strong opposition to the National Park Service’s de-listing of Blair Mountain as a site of national historic significance, and to support the legal challenge to that decision launched by the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), Friends of Blair Mountain and the West Virginia Labor History Association. Many of us have worked productively with the Park Service in public history and heritage preservation projects in the past, and are hopeful that this mistaken decision can be quickly reversed.

As you are no doubt aware, Blair Mountain is the site of the largest armed insurrection on U.S. soil since the Civil War, and one of the most significant events in American labor history. In 1993 a Congressionally-mandated ‘Labor History Theme Study’ by ten historians for the National Landmarks Program recommended Blair Mountain as a landmark site. Both the site’s importance in our national history and the urgency of adopting energetic measures to preserve it were recognized again in 2006, when the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated Blair Mountain one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The National Park Service seemed to accept that logic when, in March 2009, it included Blair Mountain in the National Register of Historic Places. We are deeply concerned at the reversal of that decision in the face of pressure from coal companies eager to strip mine the area, and alarmed by very recent reports that mining equipment is already being moved onto the site. We therefore respectfully urge the National Park Service to immediately re-list Blair Mountain on the National Register of Historic Places.

Groups sue over Blair Mountain de-listing

This just in via press release:

The Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), Friends of Blair Mountain and the West Virginia Labor History Association filed a legal challenge today to reverse the decision by the National Park Service to remove the Blair Mountain Battlefield from the National Register of Historic Places. Filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., the lawsuit alleges that the decision to delist Blair Mountain—the site of a famous 1921 battle in Logan County, West Virginia, involving 10,000 coal miners and law enforcement officials clashing over the right to unionize—was arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the National Park Service’s own regulations.

In 2006, Dr. Harvard Ayers, an Appalachian State University archeologist and member of the Friends of Blair Mountain, found a total of 15 different battlesites within the Blair Mountain Battlefield. “The area contains a number of archaeological sites, many of which have yet to be adequately studied. These sites are in danger of being permanently destroyed unless the Park Service returns Blair Mountain to the National Register,” said Dr. Ayers. “Coal companies have acquired a portion of the battlefield and have shown their willingness to play hardball to keep the site open to surface mining despite the clear historic value of the Blair Mountain Battlesite.”

Blair Mountain is the site of the largest armed insurrection on U.S. soil since the Civil War. A significant event in American labor history, coal miners from the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) fought for days along the Blair Mountain ridgeline for their right to unionize. “The Battle of Blair Mountain was fought by the UMWA to make a better life for coal miners throughout southern West Virginia—to see their legacy be destroyed is unacceptable,” said Kenny King, a Logan County resident who has been working to save Blair Mountain for the past 20 years.

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My buddy Dr. Paul Nyden had an update in today’s Gazette about the battle over efforts to protect historic Blair Mountain in Logan County, W.Va. Dr. Nyden reports:

The interim keeper of the National Register of Historic Places has denied a petition asking her to reconsider the removal of the historic Blair Mountain battlefield site from the national register.

But the interim keeper, Carol D. Shull, said the controversy surrounding the site could be best addressed by renominating the site for the National Register. She encouraged West Virginia state officials to do that.