Coal Tattoo

The folks down at Climate Ground Zero put out  this news release today, harshly criticizing Massey Energy for the company’s lawsuits against anti-mountaintop removal protesters:

Massey Energy has filed a politically motivated civil suit, also known as a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit, against fourteen activists arrested last year in relation to a protest on a mountaintop removal mining site. The suit seems to be part of a larger strategy on the part of the mining company to intimidate and silence critics of the company’s safety record and controversial mining practices, particularly mountaintop removal coal mining.

Climate Ground Zero says Massey has already filed four such suits against activists who have taken part in peaceful civil disobedience protests against the company’s mountaintop removal mining operations in Southern West Virginia. I’m aware of several court orders meant to block these protests, including this one in state court and this one by U.S. District Judge Irene Berger.  The latest of the suits targets those who took part in this protest shutting down a dragline mining machine.

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More troubles in the coalfields of China

In this photo provided by China’s Xinhua News Agency, rescuers head to examine the fire conditions at Xiaonangou coal mine at Sangshuping Township of Hancheng City, northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, on Sunday, July 18, 2010. An electrical fire inside the coal shaft in northern China left 28 miners dead, a government official said Sunday. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Liu Xiao)

There’s bad news again out of the coalfields of China, where 28 workers were killed and 13 trapped in separate incidents.

In one incident, 28 miners were killed in an underground fire in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province Saturday. In the other, two bodies have been recovered and 11 miners remain unaccounted for after a mine flooded in northwest China’s Gansu Provinc.

Meanwhile, Chinese police have arrested 8 people after a violent clash outside a coal mine in north China that media said left dozens injured, highlighting the country’s festering problems of corruption and land ownership disputes.

Citizen groups announce ‘Appalachia Rising’

Photo by Vivian Stockman

Coalfield citizen groups are at the state Capitol this hour, announcing plans for “Appalachia Rising,” a Sept. 27 event being billed as a “mass mobilization” against mountaintop removal in Washington, D.C.

According to an announcement of the event:

They are calling for thousands to join them in demanding the Obama Administration abolish surface mining and investment in sustainable economic diversification in Appalachia. Groups aim to mobilize thousands from across the country for a dignified day of action in DC to increase public pressure on elected officials and regulators to ban surface mining.

And on its Web site, the event organizers add:

Appalachia Rising declares that we are not a national sacrifice zone. We will not stand idly by as we see our past and future blasted to rubble, our communities and mountains eliminated, and our neighbors poisoned as coal executives and their shareholders grow rich. Appalachians are not, and never will be, collateral damage. We are proud of our coal mining fathers, hard-working neighbors, and Appalachian past, present and future!

And to be clear, this effort — as mentioned above — says again on its Web site that it is advocating a ban on all surface mining, not just mountaintop removal:

Appalachia is endowed with abundant resources too long plundered by outside interests. We call for the abolition of surface mining, a just transition for coalfield communities, and renewed investment in a prosperous and just economy in Appalachia.

News from Massey’s annual meeting in Richmond

This image provided by Rising Tide DC, shows a banner that was hung in the Palm Court of the Jefferson hotel as part of a protest during the annual meeting of Massey Energy at the hotel in Richmond, Va.,Tuesday, May 18, 2010. The environmental group said two group members were arrested after unfurling the banner that read “Massey: Stop Putting Profits Over People”. They were charged with trespassing and were expected to be released. (AP Photo/Kim Hyunh via Rising Tide DC)

Here’s AP’s dispatch from today’s events at the Massey Energy Annual Meeting:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A mixture of union representatives and anti-mining activists gathered outside a historic Richmond hotel Tuesday morning to protest against a common foe — Massey Energy Co.

Hundreds of people sang songs, chanted and held signs across the street from the Jefferson Hotel, while Richmond-based Massey’s board opened its annual stockholders meeting inside. Their protests were focused on Massey CEO Don Blankenship, calling for him to resign or to be prosecuted on environmental and workplace safety issues.

The meeting has attracted more attention than usual because it comes six weeks after 29 miners died in an explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. The blast is the nation’s worst coal mining disaster in 40 years and has prompted an outpouring of criticism of Massey.

At least two people were arrested inside the hotel by Richmond police. Hotel officials declined to comment, and police did not immediately identify who was arrested or why.

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Sisters-in-law Frances Ervin, left, and Doris Ervin, right, both of Castlewood, Va., listened to speakers during a prayer vigil held in front of Massey’s headquarters in Richmond, Va. Monday, May 17, 2010, for Massey miners killed at the company’s Upper Big Branch mine recently. They said both of their husbands died from health issues related to mining. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Alexa Welch Edlund)

After a prayer vigil last night, protesters are gearing up this morning at Massey Energy’s annual shareholders meeting in Richmond, Va.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports:

After a raucous rally in Monroe Park, nearly 1,000 protesters marched up Franklin Street toward the Jefferson Hotel and the annual meeting of Massey Energy Corp. this morning.

The protesters are urging Massey shareholders to fire CEO Don Blankenship.

The AP had a preview of the shareholder protest moves expected at today’s meeting, and there’s a Webcast of the annual meeting here. Meanwhile, check out the latest National Public Radio report on the Upper Big Branch disaster here.


Photo by Britney Williams, courtesy Coal River Mountain Watch.

My buddy Davin White has the story in today’s Gazette about developments concerning a possible new school that would get Marsh Fork Elementary out of the way of Massey Energy’s nearby mining, coal processing and slurry disposal operations.

As Davin reports:

State School Building Authority members agreed Monday to give $2.6 million toward a new Marsh Fork Elementary School, which is located just a few hundred feet from a Massey Energy coal silo in Raleigh County.

But the project’s supporters need to come up with another $4 million by June — or risk losing the SBA’s $2.6 million pledge.

Protesters take case to W.Va. Supreme Court

Climate Ground Zero activists announced today that they are appealing to the state Supreme Court to challenge a circuit court order blocking further protests against Massey Energy’s mountaintop removal operations.

Lawyers for the protesters are filing a petition for appeal and hoping the Court agrees to hear the case. I’ve posted a copy of their petition here. It alleges that the previous rulings by Raleigh Circuit Judge Robert Burnside were overly broad and contrary to established law.

Remember that Massey just last week also obtained a preliminary injunction against the protesters from U.S. District Judge Irene Berger.

Breaking news just in:

U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger has granted a preliminary injunction requested by Massey Energy against anti-mountaintop removal protesters.

I’ve posted a copy of the decision here. We’ll have more about this in the morning Gazette.

Updated: Here’s a link to our print story.

Massey condemns protesters as ‘domestic terrorists’


Massey Energy just issued a statement that blasted “domestic terrorists” the company said “invaded” its Marfork Coal Co. offices. Here’s how the company described today’s protest of conditions at the company’s Brushy Fork impoundment:

Massey Energy Company reported that three criminals clad in fatigues and carrying chains invaded a company office and chained themselves to chairs in the lobby.  A terrified receptionist went into shock and was transported by ambulance to a local hospital.

Massey provided reporters with photos of the protesters (see one example above) and company CEO Don Blankenship was quoted as saying:

They are now trying to provoke Massey members into a confrontation.  The Raleigh County Prosecutor needs to enforce the law and protect our hard working members.  These criminals have been allowed to become more and more aggressive with little repercussion.

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Photo by Vivian Stockman

Activists from Climate Ground Zero said this morning that they have “occupied”  the offices of Massey Energy subsidiary Marfork Coal Co.  to protest violations at the company’s huge Brushy Fork slurry impoundment.

This comes after the WVDEP issued a safety violation directed at the impoundment, following a warning notice issued to the state by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. (See previous posts on that here and here).

According to the news release describing the action by three Climate Ground Zero activists:

The protestors plan to present a citizen’s arrest warrant and list of violations on the Marfork processing plant, Bee Tree Surface Mine and Brushy Fork sludge impoundment to company president Christopher Blanchard and Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

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Mountaintop removal foes rally in Ky., Va.


Hundreds of demonstrators descend on the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. to call for an end to the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

Hundreds of folks who oppose mountaintop removal coal mining gathered for rallies today in Frankfort, Ky., and in Richmond, Va.

My buddy Jim Bruggers of the Louisville Courier-Journal has a report on the Kentucky rally here. That event came as Kentucky lawmakers consider renewable energy legislation and a separate measure meant to push U.S. EPA not to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

In Virginia, activists were gathering as lawmakers there considered the “stream saver bill,” or legislation aimed at outlawing valley fills.

If you see more media coverage of either event, please feel free to post links…

Tree-sitter update: TRO extended, hearing postponed

Word in this morning from Beckley, where U.S. District Judge Irene Berger was scheduled to hold a hearing on Massey Energy’s request for a longer-term injunction against anti-mountaintop removal protesters.

The hearing was continued, and the temporary restraining order, which was set to expire on Feb. 10, has been extended for 14 days.

Also, the protesters have filed a motion to dismiss, and I’ve posted a copy of that here.

As of right now, no new hearing date has been set. Stay tuned …

Judge Berger gives Massey order on mine protests


A day after the latest tree-sit protest against Massey Energy ended, a federal judge on Saturday issued a temporary order aimed at blocking future such actions by opponents of mountaintop removal coal mining.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger issued her six-page Temporary Restraining Order last Wednesday. I’ve posted a copy of it here. There’s also an opinion and I’ve posted that here.

The ruling specifically prohibits the following:

Trespassing or otherwise congregating on any mining properties in the Southern District of West Virginia, including but not limited to Marfork’s Bee Tree Surface Mine property in Raleigh County, West Virginia; and

Interfering, obstructing, blocking, impeding or tampering with any coal operating equipment, trucks, or other vehicles of any mining properties, including but not limited to Marfork, no matter where such equipment, trucks or other vehicles may be located in the Southern District of West Virginia.

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Latest Massey tree-sit ends after more than 8 days


The latest anti-mountaintop removal tree sit protest has ended, according this statement just issued by Climate Ground Zero.

Two mountaintop removal opponents — Amber Nitchman, 19, and Eric Blevins, 28 — had entered their 9th day sitting atop oak trees at Massey’s operations in the Coal River Valley of Southern West Virginia. A third protester, 23-year-old David Aaron Smith, was originally part of the action but came down earlier when his equipment got wet.

This protest had drawn interest from The Washington Post and the attention of West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin. This was also the longest single action in the campaign of non-violence civil disobedience against mountaintop removal that started last February.

Activists ended the protest because of the recent drop in temperatures and the approaching winter storm.

Manchin statement on tree-sitters meeting

Here’s a statement West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin just issued regarding a meeting he had this morning with the folks from Climate Ground Zero regarding concerns about Massey Energy’s response to the anti-mountaintop removal tree sitters:

I want opinions on mountaintop mining to be heard in a respectful, open and lawful dialogue; however, no one person’s right supersedes another’s. The environmentalists this morning told me they admit they are violating the law by trespassing, but they are concerned that countermeasures taken by the property owner are endangering the health and welfare of the demonstrators.

I have asked the State Police and mine safety officials to investigate the tree sitters’ allegations that decibel levels are dangerously high, and we have contacted the county prosecutor’s office to determine if the land owners are in violation of any law.

If the police and prosecutor determine that the law is being broken, I am sure they will pursue that. Even if we disagree, I believe we can walk away respecting each other but everyone – including activists and property owners — must do so within the letter of the law.


Photo by Antrim Caskey

After introducing a resolution against congressional action on global warming a day after he met with coalfield residents to hear their concerns about mountaintop removal, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin might find it hard for folks to buy his line that he’s seeking calm in the coalfields.

But maybe that’s what Manchin is trying to do now … The governor has inserted himself  — or perhaps he’s been inserted, I’m not sure which —  into the ongoing dispute between Climate Ground Zero tree-sitters and their supporters, Massey Energy, and the State Police.

I’m told the governor plans a meeting tomorrow morning with the State Police and Raleigh County authorities to discuss concerns expressed by citizen groups that Massey’s security guards are harassing and endangering the protesters.

Recall that three protesters took to the trees at Massey’s Coal River Mountain operations last Thursday, the same day Massey CEO Don Blankenship debated Robert F. Kennedy here in Charleston. One of the three has since come down, but the other two are still there nearly a week later.

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Three more tree-sitters launch protest at Massey


Climate Ground Zero just announced that three of its supporters have taken to the trees at Massey Energy’s operations on Coal River Mountain:

The sitters plan to remain in the trees as long as it takes to stop blasting on Coal River Mountain. Climate Ground Zero’s action campaign, begun in February of last year, has kept up a sustained series of direct actions since that time continuing decades-long resistance to strip mining in Appalachia.

The sitters are calling for the EPA to put an end to mountaintop removal and encourage the land-holding companies to develop clean energy production.

About those coal trucks that made all that noise …


Photo by Antrim Caskey

During Monday’s big dueling mountaintop removal demonstrations here in Charleston, a couple of coal truck drivers spent a lot of time circling the block, blaring their horns to try to drown out speeches by environmentalists they disagree with.

If you look very closely at the photo above of one of those trucks, you’ll see its from a company called Medford Trucking. When I saw that name, I knew I had heard it before … and here’s why:

Back on Feb.6, one of Medford’s workers, 70-year-old William Wade of Charleston, was killed when he lost control of his truck on the downhill portion of the Cabin Creek haulroad at Massey Energy’s Republic Energy Surface Mine along the Kanawha-Fayette County line.

After the death, both state and federal investigators cited Medford for workplace safety violations they said caused or contributed to Wade’s death.

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Big day today for coal and climate news


Half a world away from West Virginia’s coalfields, delegates from around the world are starting talks in Copenhagen aimed at finally doing something about global warming.

Meanwhile, folks here in Charleston and surrounding communities will get a great chance tonight to hear diverse views on the issue.

pmichaels.jpgdavid-hawkins.jpgThe Gazette is co-sponsoring a big debate tonight between David Hawkins, climate change director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (right), and Patrick Michaels, a Cato Institute senior fellow and leading climate change skeptic (far right). This event,  at 6 p.m. Monday at University of Charleston’s Geary Auditorium, is billed as a discussion of cap-and-trade legislation’s potential impacts on the West Virginia economy. But it seems likely that Copenhagen will come up, as will the stolen e-mails that have climate skeptics in such a tizy. If you want a preview of the general views held by Hawkins, check out his testimony in October to the U.S. Senate on its version of the climate change bill. Or, read up on Michaels by following the links from his Cato Institute bio page.

Earlier today, starting at about 2 p.m., mountaintop removal opponents are planning what they say will be a huge rally outside the state Department of Environmental Protection’s headquarters in Kanawha City. The featured speakers is scheduled to be Robert Kennedy Jr., an outspoken critic of mountaintop removal and coal in general. Massey Energy President Don Blankenship’s buddies over at the West Virginia Red blog are encouraging coal industry supporters to mount a counter-protest:

We cannot sit by an let this out-of-state liberal environmental extremists insult the coal miners and mining families who sacrifice everyday so America can have cheap affordable energy. Let Mr. Kennedy know he can’t come to West Virginia and talk about our people!

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Anti-mountaintop removal faster arrested

This just in from The Associated Press:

micklem.jpgAn environmental activist fasting at the state Capitol over mountaintop removal mining has been arrested on a trespassing charge from October.

Roland Micklem was in Kanawha County Magistrate Court on Tuesday after his arrest. He plans to plead not guilty to the charge.

The arrest stems from an October march in protest of mountaintop removal mining, during which Micklem stopped to talk to a security guard at Walker Machinery in Belle. He says he didn’t think he was trespassing.

Micklem says he didn’t know there was a warrant for his arrest until Tuesday.

The 81-year-old vows he’ll resume his post at the state Capitol as early as Tuesday afternoon. He began his fast as a gesture of mourning over surface mining.

More on the Climate Ground Zero Web site.