Coal Tattoo

Tree sitting protests resume in coal country

A group called Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival (RAMPS)  is saying on its website:

Two protesters associated with the RAMPS Campaign halted blasting on a portion of Alpha Natural Resources’ Bee Tree mountaintop removal mine on Coal River Mountain today by ascending two trees. Catherine-Ann MacDougal, 24, and Becks Kolins, 21, are on platforms approximately 80 feet off the ground within 300 feet of active blasting on the mine. The banners hanging from their platforms read “Stop Strip Mining” and “For Judy Bonds” in honor of strip mining activist Julia “Judy” Bonds of Packsville, W.Va. who died of cancer earlier this year. The activists demand that Alpha Natural Resources stop strip mining on Coal River Mountain and that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection prohibit future strip mining in the Coal River Watershed.

The website quoted MacDougal:

I feel, with the keen urgency of extinction, that Alpha Natural Resources cannot be allowed to tear apart Coal River Mountain and allow all those living below it to suffer for their profits. The Coal River watershed cannot tolerate any more damage. There is no way that I can begin to detail the comprehensive destruction that surface mining and mountaintop removal wreak on the forest ecosystem of the southern Appalachian mountains.

This action comes just a little more than a month after word that another group of protesters, affiliated with the group Climate Ground Zero, had settled a lawsuit that the operation’s former owners, Massey Energy, filed over similar peaceful civil disobedience protests.

UPDATED:  The press release from RAMPS added:

Lisa Henderson, Judy Bonds’ daughter and Coal River Valley resident, sees this action as a continuation of her mother’s work.

“I hope that today’s actions serve as a symbol that the struggle to live peacefully and pollution-free in the Coal River Valley did not end when my mother’s life did. My mother and I often compared the fight to survive here on Coal River to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. I am sure that generations from now, our children will look back on this movement also and the actions of the people involved, and ask the question of their elders, ‘Whose side were you on?’”

Protesters win a round against Massey

A federal magistrate judge has ruled today that anti-mountaintop removal protesters do not have to answer Massey Energy’s questions about who assisted or participated in peaceful civil disobedience actions against the company.

The ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort is posted here.

Massey is suing the protesters, and the company’s lawyers wanted to question defendants in the case about who else was involved in planning or organizing the actions.  But the judge ruled:

In deposing defendants, plantiffs may not inquire specifically respecting other persons who assisted or participated with Defendants in any way prior to, during or after their January, 2010, occupation of Plaintiff’s Beetree Surface Mine property.

As the judge explained:

The First Amendment  … establishes the right to associate with others and organize in protest of the policies and programs of the Government. It applies in the context of discovery as a qualified privilege against disclosure of information when the party asserting the privilege demonstrates that the disclosure would likely impair the associational activities of the group.

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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.

Kentucky protest ends with rally

Part of a group calling themselves Kentucky Rising leave the state capitol building, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011, where they had occupied the governor’s offices since Friday to greet the I Love The Mountains Rally in Frankfort, Ky. From left to right is Doug Doerrfeld, Patty Wallace, Terri Blanton, Wendell Berry, and Micky McCoy. The group and the rally were protesting the coal mining practice called Mountaintop Removal. (AP Photo/The Independent, John Flavell)

John Cheves from the Lexington Herald-Leader reports:

Author Wendell Berry and 13 other environmental activists emerged from the state Capitol on Monday to roars of approval and applause, ending their four-day occupation of Gov. Steve Beshear’s outer office.

The protesters joined several hundred people on the Capitol steps for the “I Love Mountains” rally, an annual event held to promote “stream saver” legislation that effectively would end mountaintop removal coal mining in Eastern Kentucky. Previous bills died for lack of action; similarly, this year’s bills are languishing in committee.

“We came because the land, its forests and its streams are being destroyed by the surface mining of coal; because the people are suffering intolerable harm to their homes, their health and their communities; and because all the people downstream are threatened by the degradation and contamination of the rivers,” Berry, who lives in Henry County, told the crowd.

Jim Bruggers of the Courier-Journal of Louisville explained in his story that Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear had agreed to one of the protesters’ demands: That he visit the homes of coalfield residents to see first-hand how mountaintop removal impacts their lives.

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Mountaintop removal protest continues in Kentucky

Governor Steve Beshear, center listens to a statement by Kentucky author Wendell Berry, right, Friday, Feb. 11, 2011 in the Governor’s office at the Capitol building in Frankfort, Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear has met with members of the environmental group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth who are waging a sit-in at his Capitol office. Beshear spoke with more than a dozen demonstrators Friday afternoon in the reception area of his office where some have promised to stay until they’re arrested. (AP Photo/The Lexington Herald-Leader, David Perry)

A group of mountaintop removal opponents — including noted author Wendell Berry — made it through the night and is apparently continuing their sit-in protest at the office of Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports:

Many of the 14 people were able to bring in blankets from their cars. Supporters brought in pillows, and the State Police allowed the delivery of pizzas last night and coffee on Saturday morning.

The protesters — which included high profile authors Wendell Berry and Silas House — met with Beshear on Friday, but said they would stay at the office until they were arrested. But Beshear said they were welcome to occupy his office in the state Capitol through the weekend.

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‘Rally for Coal’ draws 1,000 to W.Va. Capitol

Sen. Joe Manchin, right, and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, far left, attend a rally for coal Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011 at the Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. More than 1,000 people crowded round the well of the state Capitol’s rotunda Thursday to rally in response to a recent action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Hey folks, I’ve been tied up all day covering the release of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s report on the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W.Va., but I wanted to pass on the early AP report on the “Rally for Coal” at the Capitol here in Charleston. The Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden will have a complete report in tomorrow’s Gazette.

By Lawrence Messina

The Associated Press

From acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to working miners and their relatives, West Virginians spoke out Thursday at a rally against the Obama administration’s handling of the state’s coal industry.

More than 1,000 people filled the well of the state Capitol’s rotunda in response to last week’s regulatory action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The crowd also included scores of opponents of mountaintop removal mining who support the EPA action.

EPA announced last week that it’s revoking a crucial water permit for Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine. The 2,300-acre Logan County operation would have been the state’s largest mountaintop removal site.

Tomblin, a Democrat, was the first in a string a speakers at the hourlong event to blast EPA for that decision.

“This is about sending a message to Washington,” Tomblin said. “This rally is about jobs, plain and simple.”

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Protesters plant trees on mountaintop removal site

Anti-mountaintop removal protesters wave as they begin to plant trees at a Kayford Mountain strip mine. Gazette photo by Chip Ellis

The Gazette’s Zac Taylor has the story today about Sunday’s big mountaintop removal protest action, in which activists planted trees on a mine site near Kayford Mountain out in eastern Kanawha County.

Climate Ground Zero reports that there were no arrests, and they explain the reasons for choosing tree-planting as a peaceful protest action:

The standard reclamation practiced by mining companies is inadequate, which involves regrading high walls into gentle, highly-compacted slopes and seeding the rocky soil with grass. Some plant trees but rarely return to tend them–most trees don’t survive long. The extremely diverse mixed mesophytic forests of Central Appalachia, which rely upon folded land that creates lots of micro-climates, cannot regrow on reclaimed surface mines. Native plants like ginseng require the steep north-facing slopes of Appalachia that retain moisture, and will never grow on the gentle slopes of a reclaimed strip mine.

Here’s a release put out yesterday by Climate Ground Zero:

Activists from the groups Mountain Justice, Coal River Mountain Watch and Climate Ground Zero have announced plans for a mass non-violent civil disobedience action on Kayford Mountain on Sunday, Oct. 24, in opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining. The event will begin with a rally at noon on Sunday, followed by a mass civil disobedience action at the strip mine located on Kayford Mountain.

A press conference announcing the action will be held at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 19, in the courtyard of the West Virginia State Capitol.

Larry Gibson, whose family has owned land on Kayford Mountain for generations, said he thinks what the activists have been doing should “alert people to what is coming their way, so they have a chance to stop the destruction before it happens in their own backyard – in West Virginia or elsewhere.”

The mass action comes on the heels of Appalachia Rising, the largest national gathering of people in opposition to Mountaintop Removal coal mining to date. Appalachia Rising, a similar conference recently held in Washington D.C., ended in over 100 civil disobedient arrests in front of the White House.

Massey protesters at Supreme Court today

UPDATED: The Supreme Court rejected the petition, denying to hear the case, according to this Associated Press report.

West Virginia’s Supreme Court will be asked this morning to enter the fray over mountaintop removal coal mining, when some of the activists from Climate Ground Zero urge the court to hear an appeal of an injunction that attempts to ban peaceful protests against Massey Energy.

We’ve mentioned this appeal before here, and the court’s hearing will be available via Webcast tomorrow here.

Basically, the activists argue that the injunction issued by Raleigh Circuit Judges Robert A. Burnside Jr. and John A. Hutchinson were overly broad. They also argue that journalists Antrim Caskey and Chad Stevens were wrongly targeted by Massey and the court orders for trying to report on these protests.

Take note that Justice Brent Benjamin has recused himself. Sitting in his place will be Harrison Circuit Judge James Matish.

And remember, at this stage of the process — the motion docket — justices are simply being asked to take in this case and hear a full appeal of it …

‘Coal Country’ listed on terrorist watch reports

Makers of the film “Coal Country” interview coal industry official Randall Maggard in this courtesy photo.

Thanks for Mari-Lynn Evans for pointing out that her film, Coal Country, showed up on the list of things that were being monitored by the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security as potential terrorism threats.

The bulletin mentioning Coal Country showed up on the Pennsylvania government’s Web site as part of the ongoing controversy over monitoring of environmental and other groups by Pennsylvania law enforcement officials.

You can read the whole November 2009 report mentioning Coal Country for yourself, but here’s what it had to say:

Throughout the next two months, Planet Green will air ‘Coal Country,’ a documentary promising to “reveal the truth about modern coal mining” …

… Though Pennsylvania mountains have not been subjected to mountaintop mining as of yet, the waste materials from mountaintop mining in other states has been dumped into streams in Pennsylvania, reportedly causing damage to the environment.

On 15 October, 2009, over 300 people attended a public hearing at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh to discuss the Obama administration’s decision to restrict mountaintop removal-related permits. Security was heavy.

In the report, state contractors from the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response warned:

TAM-C analysts view this film as a potential catalyst for inspiring ‘direct action’ protests or even sabotage against facilities, machinery, and/or corporate headquarters.

The report listed three power plants as potential targets, and cautioned:

Actions against these facilities would likely cause counter-protests from the pro-coal side, which TAM-C analysts believe already feels assaulted, not only  by environmentalists, but by any government bodies and/or policies that support them.

TAM-C analysts will continue to monitor this documentary as well as the larger issue to determine whether destructive rhetoric or actions are being planned by either camp.

L.A. Times profiles activist Bo Webb

In the wake of Appalachia Rising, the L.A. Times over the weekend published a nice little profile of Coal River activist Bo Webb, saying:

Few homeowners in Appalachia dare to stand up to coal companies. But Bo Webb did, and achieved the unthinkable: He forced a company to move blasting on a mountaintop-removal strip mining site away from his hollow.

Webb recently went to Washington, D.C., to press the government to shut down mountaintop removal — the practice of blowing up mountains to reach coal seams. Since May, Webb has worked as a leading organizer of Appalachia Rising, the first national mobilization against mountaintop removal.

Then last Monday, an estimated 2,000 people, including several hundred from Appalachia, marched in protest through the capital, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the White House, some with placards bearing the names of decapitated mountains. At the EPA, which enforces laws governing mountaintop removal, they trooped around the building shouting, “Do Your Job, EPA.”

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‘Appalachia Rising’ rallies in Washington, D.C.

Law enforcement stand ready as protesters sit in front of the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, during a demonstration calling for the end of mountaintop removal for mining. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Here’s the latest Associated Press report on Appalachian Rising:

By Frederic J. Frommer

WASHINGTON — Around 100 people have been arrested outside the White House while protesting against mountaintop removal mining.

The protesters were arrested Monday after refusing orders from U.S. Park Police to leave the sidewalk outside the White House. They staged a rally at nearby Freedom Plaza earlier in the day.

The crowd of mostly youthful ralliers carried signs like “Blowing Up Mountains for Coal Poisons People” and “Mountain ecosystems won’t grow back.” Some carried small white crosses adorned with messages such as “water pollution” and “corporate greed.”

In mountaintop removal mining, forests are clear-cut, explosives blast apart the rock, and machines scoop out exposed coal. The earth left behind is dumped into valleys, often covering intermittent streams.

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Industry rally: Who can be the most-pro coal?

Coal mining supporters from the Appalachian states hold a rally near the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

We’ve got the complete Associated Press story on last week’s big pro-coal rally in Washington posted on the Mining the Mountains section of the Gazette Web site.  The industry front group FACES of Coal has more about the event on its own site, as well as its Facebook page.

I really wish AP would work on its boilerplate background on mountaintop removal:

In mountaintop removal mining, forests are clear-cut, explosives blast apart the rock, and machines scoop out the exposed coal. The earth left behind is dumped into valleys, covering intermittent streams. Coal operators say it’s the most efficient way to reach some reserves, and that it supports tens of thousands of jobs and provides coal for electricity. Opponents say it pollutes water, defaces majestic scenery and obliterates the quiet country environment.

Many surface coal mines in Appalachia bury not only intermittent streams, but perennial and ephemeral ones. And while the industry does indeed argue — perhaps correctly, if you read ICG Vice President Gene Kitts guest blog for Coal Tattoo — that this is the “most efficient” way to mine certain coal seams, this description of the other side of the story is greatly lacking:

Opponents say it pollutes water, defaces majestic scenery and obliterates the quiet country environment.

And it wouldn’t hurt if AP were to once in a while mention  the Science journal article that outlines the growing scientific consensus about the  serious effects mountaintop removal is having on the environment and communities in Appalachia.

Also not mentioned in the AP story, though, was the bipartisan bill introduced on Tuesday to block EPA from using any of its funding to conduct more detailed Clean Water Act permit reviews for strip mines or to enforce its new limit on the electrical conductivity pollution from these mines.

Among the sponsors of the bill is West Virginia Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who said:

Coal is affordable and abundant and mined right here in America. It supports thousands of jobs in West Virginia and across our country that we can’t afford to lose at a time of near double digit unemployment. I am proud to stand with the miners at today’s rally to remind Congress of the vital role this reliable American energy resource plays in our economic and energy portfolios.

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Coal miners rally in Washington, D.C.

Coal mining supporters from the Appalachian states hold a rally near the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Here’s an Associated Press report from Washington, D.C.:

By Frederic J. Frommer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hundreds of coal miners rallied on Capitol Hill Wednesday against the Obama administration’s attempts to rein in mountaintop removal mining, accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of trying to wipe out the coal industry.

“This administration is trying to shut down coal and fire all of you,” claimed Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., adding that the EPA was practicing “strangulation by regulation.”

The industry-backed group Faces of Coal paid for most of the travel and lodging expenses for the coal miners, who came from West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Speakers included politicians from both parties and country music singer Stella Parton. A rival rally was planned later in the day by opponents of mountaintop removal, featuring country music performer Big Kenny.

In mountaintop removal mining, forests are clear-cut, explosives blast apart the rock, and machines scoop out the exposed coal. The earth left behind is dumped into valleys, covering intermittent streams. Coal operators say it’s the most efficient way to reach some reserves, and that it supports tens of thousands of jobs and provides coal for electric power plants across much of the South and East. But opponents say it is destroying land and harming water quality.

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Here’s the new Nike WVU graphic

And this is the new text that goes with it:

For generations coal mining has been a way of life in West Virginia. As has Mountaineer football. West Virginians know about hard work. They know about pride. They know that to respect the past you’ve got to fuel the future both on and off the field. In 2010, the Mountaineers are ready to go to work and put it all on the line for West Virginia University.

Update: Nike to modify WVU uniform graphic

This just in from Nike:

The new WVU football uniform was designed to celebrate the football team and honor the heritage of coal mining in the state.

We are modifying the graphic of the player on our website to address concerns.

In the wake of complaints from coalfield citizens groups, West Virginia University’s athletic department issued this statement today about the Nike ads:

The concept for the uniform design was to honor the coal miners of West Virginia and their heritage. Their hard work and dedication are the same characteristics of the Mountaineer football team.

The graphics surrounding the promotion of the uniform which featured 10 teams and an iconic representation of each school were designed by Nike and reviewed by the WVU athletic department. The intent was for the player on the field to be surrounded by coal and not as an endorsement of any one form of mining technology.

We are in discussions with Nike about the graphic.

So far, WVU President James Clements has refused to comment on the situation.

While we were waiting for some technical problems with the Gazette’s blogs to be ironed out, West Virginia University announced yesterday:

West Virginia and Pittsburgh have squared off in the Backyard Brawl 102 times. This year, the passion is the same but the uniforms are strikingly different. On Nov. 26, the Mountaineers will suit up in the Nike Pro Combat System of Dress. The special rivalry-day uniform pays respect to the 29 lives lost in the devastating explosion at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine last April.

In West Virginia, coal mining is a way of life. So is football. With this in mind, Nike designers brought inspiration from the mines above ground to the gridiron. Tribute to the hard-knocks industry is evident throughout the uniform.

As the away team at this year’s Brawl, the Mountaineers will be clad in a shade of White that looks as if it has a fine layer of coal dust on the surface. Powerful block numbers on the jersey are rendered in a smudged Black. The same effect is used as an allover pattern on the Pro Combat base layer, and within a band placed at the back of the waist and down the sides of both pant legs.

Accents come in University Gold, a hue that references the canaries used long ago to test toxicity in mines. The Mountaineers’ helmet also is cast in smudged Black, with a thin yellow line running from front to back.

The line represents the beam of light emitted by a miner’s headlamp, and a graphic with the number 29 honors the perished miners at Upper Big Branch. The smudge effect carries over to the gloves, which read WV when the palms face outward. Lined in yellow, “Leave no doubt” is printed on the inside cuff.

Basketball coach Bobby Huggins introduced the special uniforms:

You can listen to Nike’s new ad for the uniforms here, and this is the text of the voice-over:

Every day, the coal miners of West Virginia put it on the line for their families. That’s why every Saturday in the fall, the Mountaineer football team is willing to put it all on the line for them, with a never-say-die attitude and toughness you have to live to understand.

It’s just the way things are done in West Virginia — hard work and determination.

We’ve seen minor controversies before over WVU’s close ties and blatant promotion of the coal industry, including the fairly recent dust-up over the creation of a chair in the university’s engineering school in honor of coal operator Bob Murray of Crandall Canyon Mine Disaster fame. WVU President James Clements initially refused to discuss this matter, and then agreed to start a discussion on campus about the rules for such corporate donations — only after a group of students protested donations by Murray and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

Now, author and Huffington Post commentator Jeff Biggers is calling on Nike to pull these new coal-uniform ads in a blog post headlined, Scandal of the Week: Nike Runs Mountaintop Removal Football Ad, Disrespects Coal Miners.

Biggers opined:

Instead of featuring underground miners, such as those who died at the Upper Big Branch disaster, Nike features an open strip mine with a dramatic voice over: “It’s just the way things are done in West Virginia.”

It gets even worse.

In an act of total disrespect, Nike claims the West Virginia University football players put their lives on the line every day, just like coal miners.

What? Over 104,000 coal miners have died in disasters and accidents in our mines; over 10,000 coal miners still die each decade from black lung.

How many football players die?

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Both sides taking mountaintop removal issue to D.C.

Earlier today, mountaintop removal opponents re-announced their plans for Appalachia Rising, a huge rally and day of action scheduled for Sept. 27 in Washington, D.C. According to today’s news release:

Appalachia Rising will consist of Voices from the Mountains, a movement summit on the weekend, and the Day of Action, on Monday. Voices from the Mountains will engage participants in critical dialogue on the movement for justice and prosperity in Appalachia. The Day of Action will unite thousands in a march and rally, including non-violent civil disobedience for individuals who choose.

Meanwhile, coal industry groups have announced their own rally in Washington, scheduled for Sept. 15:

The West Virginia Coal Association, Citizens for Coal, the Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security (FACES of Coal), as well as several allied citizen and coal advocacy groups, will participate in a press conference and gathering held on September 15 on the grounds of the United States Capitol. The gathering will celebrate the American Coal Miner and the contribution coal and coal mining make to our nation’s energy security and economic stability. Current regulatory challenges, coupled with ill-informed public opinion and damaging legislation are threatening the viability of coal mining throughout the United States and particularly in West Virginia.

Climate Ground Zero blocks WVDEP building

Climate Ground Zero announced this morning that a pair of anti-mountaintop removal activists have blocked the entrance to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection headquarters over in Kanawha City.

According to the announcement:

Joe Hamsher, 23, and Sarah Seeds, 60, are chained to a concrete-filled metal barrel that is blocking the entrance to the parking lot of the DEP office complex in Charleston. The activists painted the following statement on the barrel: “Department of Easy Permits: Closed.”

Climate Ground Zero said the activists are trying to call attention to the WVDEP’s new mine permitting guidance, which they said is part of the state agency’s pattern of not enforcing the Clean Water Act.