Coal Tattoo

81-year-old fasting to try to stop mountaintop removal


I’m just back from a quick trip to the Capitol, to check in with 81-year-old Roland Micklem, who this morning began a fast aimed at trying to abolish mountaintop removal coal mining.

There’s more about this at the Climate Ground Zero Web site,  including an open letter in which Micklem writes:

I’m inspired and energized by the young people here at Climate Ground Zero, who at great personal risk are carrying on a campaign to stop mountaintop removal by nonviolent direct action. Despite the awesome challenge of climate change and other threats to the global ecology, there’s a new awakening among people and a renewed commitment to save Mother Earth from the excesses of our own species.

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MTR protests going national

This just in a while ago from Vicki Smith at The Associated Press:

Activists with Mountain Justice, Rainforest Action Network and other groups planned protests at Environmental Protection Agency headquarters and across the country Friday to demand the end of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

An online map showed more than two dozen planned events from California to Maine, including demonstrations at a regional EPA office in Philadelphia and a New Jersey office of JPMorgan & Chase Co., a bank environmentalists say is the biggest financier of the destructive form of strip mining.

It was the third attempt at a national protest since June, and evidence the environmentalists believe the tide is turning in their favor under the Obama administration.

“The end of mountaintop removal is almost here,” declares the Rainforest Action Network on its Web site. “Political and financial decision-makers in New York, Washington D.C. and across the country continue to hear our message.”

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Massey protester sentenced to jail time

Climate Ground Zero said today that one of the protesters arrested last month for blockading Massey Energy’s regional headquarters has been sentenced to jail time for his role in that action.

Joseph Hampsher, 22, of Charleston, was sentenced to 20 days in the regional jail by Boone County Magistrate Charles Byrnside. Hampsher apparently reached a plea agreement with prosecutors.

According to the Climate Ground Zero, this is the first time someone taking part in the peaceful civil disobedience actions against mountaintop removal in Southern West Virginia has been sentenced to jail.

Another day, another anti-mountaintop removal protest

The Associated Press is reporting that eight activists with Climate Ground Zero have been arrested in a mountaintop removal mining protest in the Cabin Creek area of Kanawha County.

We’ve got the AP dispatch posted on the Gazette Web site here, and  there’s more information available on the Climate Ground Zero site here.


West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin came out and met with  about two dozen protesters who filled his outer office reception area, demanding that the governor step in to stop Massey Energy mountaintop removal operations near the company’s Brush Fork slurry impoundment in Raleigh County.

The governor told the protesters:

We want to do everything. We’re committed to attracting wind farms and attracting solar farms. We’re looking at all of that.

What we’re trying to do is find a balance and that’s tough to do in an extractive state.

When I left the Capitol about an hour ago, many of the protesters were still there. Some of them were holding big banners outside the reception area, in the main hall of the building. Seven others had locked arms, sat down and were refusing to leave the reception area unless Manchin stopped the mining permits.

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The folks from Climate Ground Zero announced this morning that a group of anti-mountaintop removal protesters are headed for Gov. Joe Manchin’s office today. They plan to deliver a letter to the governor, and apparently some of them will refuse to leave until Manchin agrees to their demands.

Their demands? They’re outlined in this letter, and include rescinding mountaintop removal permits for the Coal River Valley area.


Corps of Engineers officials, left to right, Deb Tabor, Robert Peterson,  Ginger Mullins, and Meg Gaffney-Smith, ran last night’s public hearing on mountaintop removal. Gazette photo by Chris Dorst.

My buddy Ry Rivard at the Charleston Daily Mail (whose editors must not care about coal miners, since they buried his story inside their paper) reports this morning on some mountaintop removal opponents who couldn’t get into last night’s hearing and didn’t get much help from local police.

On The Huffington Post, Jeff Biggers recounts similar stories from coalfield activists.

The lead of The Associated Press story concluded that coal supporters “shouted down” those who disagreed with them,  and Erica Peterson at West Virginia Public Broadcasting explained how some environmental group speakers lost some of their time at the microphone because the yelling and jeering drowned the out.

But when I asked Meg Gaffney-Smith, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting program, about all of this, here’s what she said:

I believe that the hearing was conducted in an orderly fashion. It was conducted in an appropriate fashion. 

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Given the behavior of coal industry supporters at last night’s Army Corps of Engineers public hearing in Charleston, folks might be interested in this statement, from a column Sen. Robert C. Byrd issued in August:

In September 1787 in Philadelphia, some of the brightest and bravest men came together to forge the document that to this day guides our great nation:  the Constitution of the United States.

The Constitution’s preamble established our government’s purpose in one short paragraph, followed by a few pages which gave this nation direction and structure.  And for almost 222 years, the Constitution has remained a living, breathing document – the foundation of our freedoms and the bedrock of our rights and liberties – that we all cherish. One of the most sacred of the freedoms contained in our Constitution is the guarantee of freedom of speech.

As I have said repeatedly over the years, no citizen should be a mere spectator in our government.  We should express our opinions, petition our elected representatives, and engage in an open and civilized debate on the important issues that confront our country.

However, as I have watched the health care debate unfold in many areas and venues across this country during the past month, I have become increasingly concerned with the tone and tenor of a “civilized discourse” that I believe the Framers of the Constitution had in mind when they established the right to free speech.

In many town hall meetings logical and open discussion has been supplanted by disruptive shouting matches where no one is heard and no debate ensues.  Members of Congress have been rudely interrupted during their responses and various attendees have engaged in physical confrontation with one another requiring law enforcement officials to remove them from the town meetings.

As a strong defender of our Constitution, I am in no way suggesting that free and open discussion on any topic should be limited.  I am heartened by the amount of discussion that is taking place all across this country on the issue of health care and the desire by tens of millions of Americans to become fully informed on the many proposals under consideration in Congress.

But as we go into what will be a critical debate on the future of our nation’s health care system, I encourage all of us to take a deep breath, exhale, and be tolerant of others views.  Shrillness and violence will not move the debate forward – it will only attempt to undermine the type of freedom of speech that our Founding Fathers envisioned back in 1787 when they rose to that dramatic challenge of establishing what has become the greatest Republic in the world. 

Coal supporters put on shouting lesson at MTR hearing


Gazette photo by Chris Dorst

If the coal industry’s goal at tonight’s Army Corps of Engineers public hearing was for no one else to get a word in … well, it pretty much worked.

Hundreds of people turned out here in Charleston — the auditorium at the civic center seats nearly 740 and was overflowing — for one of six hearings on the Obama administration’s proposal to end the use of a streamlined permitting review process for mountaintop removal mining.

The crowd was overwhelmingly pro-coal, and even the few mountaintop removal opponents who did show up either decided not to battle the booing and shouting or couldn’t be heard when they did try to speak.

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First, a local United Mine Workers leader compared the Obama administration’s proposal to more closely scrutinize mountaintop removal permits as “state-sponsored terrorism.”

stevewalker.jpgAnd now, Steve Walker of Walker Machinery says that a couple of young people who hung a banner on his building  remind him of  “suicide bombers.

The peaceful protest took place at Walker’s facility up in Belle, as the seniors taking part in an anti-mountaintop removal march walked by on their 25-mile trek, which ended yesterday.

Walker’s comments came during a radio interview in which Chris Lawrence of MetroNews:

I equate these boys with the suicide bombers in the Middle East. People fill their heads with this dogma and they use them to do their dirty work, while people who are older and wiser perhaps sit back and watch them.

Interestingly, the “suicide bomber” sentence wasn’t include in the text-version of the story posted on the MetroNews Web site. But you can listen to the whole thing here.

Giving Walker the benefit of the doubt, he wasn’t actually comparing hanging a banner to strapping explosives to your body and walking into a nightclub or hotel. Perhaps he just meant to say he thinks all the young folks who have come to West Virginia to take part in peaceful civil disobedience protests have been brainwashed.

I know Steve is an avid Coal Tattoo reader, so I’ll invite him here to post a comment and clarify what he meant.

25-mile seniors march against MTR ends


Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce

Vicki Smith from The Associated Press has the story:

MAMMOTH, W.Va. (AP) — Only a handful of hecklers and angry motorists met a group of gray-haired environmental activists Monday as they finished a five-day, 25-mile march to protest mountaintop removal mining and arrived at a Massey Energy coal complex.

At a roadside press conference with a speaker on the hood of a car, they declared a small victory. If nothing else, they said, they spread awareness of a particularly destructive form of strip mining that they believe is destroying lives and communities across Appalachia.

“It showed a lot of people can do something, even senior citizens,” said Climate Ground Zero activist James McGuinness, 53, of Rock Creek. “A lot of people are over 80 that came out and did this. I think it’s incredible they walked the entire way and stood up for themselves and said, ‘This has got to end.”’

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Sounds like it was a busy weekend for the folks taking part in the Senior March to End Mountaintop removal.

There was also some action from young folks who turned out to support the marchers … Two protesters are facing trespassing charges after unveiling a banner that read, “Yes, Coal is Killing West Virginia’s Communities,” off a Walker Machinery building along the march route.

The folks from Climate Ground Zero are reporting that security guards and police later stationed themselves  outside an American Electric Power plant that is also along the march route.

The march is scheduled to climax today outside Massey Energy’s Mammoth Coal Co. operation.

Seniors kick off march against mountaintop removal


Roland Micklem, left, 81, of Richmond, Va., leads a group senior citizen’s on a 25 mile march to protest mountaintop removal Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009 in Charleston, W.Va. Micklem intends to lead a group on a five day march from the capitol in Charleston to the gates of Massey energy owned Mammoth MTR site in Kanawha County. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Eight environmental activists between 50 and 83 years old began the first leg of a five-day, 25-mile march today to protest mountaintop removal mining practices they believe are destroying communities and lives across southern West Virginia.

Vicki Smith from The Associated Press has the story:

 Led by 81-year-old military veteran Roland Micklem of Savannah, N.Y., the toes of his black boots held together with duct tape, the group set out from the gold-domed Capitol, heading east along the Kanawha River with about a dozen younger supporters.

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Massey going after mountaintop removal protesters


The West Virginia Blue blog had a piece the other day called, Blankenship Loves Him Some Frivolous Lawsuits, reporting on Massey Energy’s civil suits against mountaintop removal protesters. And now, Associated Press correspondent Vicki Smith has more on this issue.

Vicki reports, among other things:

Massey did not immediately comment on its cases Wednesday, but court filings suggest the protesters are having a measurable, if minor, impact on the bottom line: In one lawsuit, Massey claims a single action — the 31/2-hour occupation of a dragline at Progress Coal’s Twilight mine June 18 — cost the company $300,000.


Earlier this year, Raleigh County Circuit Judge Robert Burnside issued a restraining order against some of the protesters, and last week, he held six in contempt for repeatedly defying that order.

Burnside’s Sept. 24 ruling, which is temporarily stayed, orders protesters to pay Massey more than $19,000 in attorney fees and expenses, plus $500 fines per person.

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Four arrested in blockade at Massey regional HQ


Four protesters who briefly blocked a road at Massey Energy’s regional headquarters have been arrested, according to The Associated Press and a statement from the group Climate Ground Zero.

Here’s the AP report by Vicki Smith:

The Boone County sheriff’s department confirmed Wednesday morning that it was in the process of charging four men who had linked their arms together using plastic pipes wrapped in duct tape and other materials.

The men, who range in age from 22 to 81, were cut free and detained after their pre-dawn protest near Julian, off U.S. 119.

They are affiliated with Climate Ground Zero, an environmental group that has staged protests against Richmond, Va.-based Massey and its mountaintop removal mining operations in Appalachia.

Climate Ground Zero spokesman Charles Suggs says an independent journalist was also detained.

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Verizon targeted for support of pro-coal rally


The big Friends of America rally on Labor Day sounds like it’s going to be quite an event, with a crowd, as reported today by my collegue Davin White, that will rival or surpass a Mountaineer home football game.

Folks from Massey Energy and International Coal Group are promoting the event big-time, and it’s obvious that the music and the political message have a huge audience in the coalfields of Southern West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and beyond.

But now, several major environmental groups are trying to gear up an attack on one of the event’s other corporate sponsors — Verizon Wireless.

Jeff Biggers kicked off the movement with this piece on The Huffington Post,  and West Virginia Blue gets the award for best headline of the week for the post, Can you hear us now?

But two other organizations have also joined the call for Verizon to drop its sponsorship of the event.

First, there’s Credo Mobile, a cell phone company that contributes part of its profits to progressive political causes,  including several that are working to stop mountaintop removal.

On its Web site, Credo asks:

Why is Verizon Wireless co-sponsoring a pro-coal, anti-environment rally on Labor Day?

And it answers:

Companies like Verizon Wireless may say they are not making a political statement when they participate in events like these. But it’s never just about marketing. After all this is the same company that made a decision to block NARAL Pro-Choice America’s text messages from its network. Verizon Wireless has choices. And once again, it’s made a very poor one. 

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Breaking news: Second tree-sitter ends MTR protest

This just in from Climate Ground Zero:

The State Police have just confirmed that Laura Steepleton descended the tree and has been arrested.

So apparently, both tree sitters have come down out of those tulip poplar trees in Raleigh county, ending a week-long protest they say shut down blasting at a Massey Energy mountaintop removal mine.

More details later … in tomorrow’s Gazette.


Word this morning is that one of the two anti-mountaintop removal tree-sitters is coming down from his perch high above a Massey Energy operation in Raleigh County, W.Va.

Climate Ground Zero announced that Nick Stocks (at left in above photo, looking down) planned to voluntarily end his protest and turn himself into the State Police. Fellow tree-sitter Laura Steepleton “remains in a neighboring tree with no immediate plans to come down,” the group said.

The protest at Massey’s Edwight Surface Mine is now a week old, and blasting at the operation appears to still be halted.

The announcement about Stocks did not explain the reasons for his move. I’m told he has a court date in Montana, but do not have any details of that situation. Stocks is expected to discuss his reasons himself once he descends from the tree.

But the move also comes as Massey and State Police are hoping to cut off supply lines to the protesters, as troopers arrest other environmental activists who trespass on company property to supply the tree-sitters. With only one tree-sitter, presumably it would be easier for ground support activists to keep her supplied.

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Blankenship speaks: Coal will wait out tree-sitters


Massey Energy President Don Blankenship has broken the company’s silence on the anti-mountaintop removal protesters who are sitting 80 feet up in a couple of trees, blocking blasting activity at one of his company’s Raleigh County, W.Va., mines.

In an e-mail to The Associated Press, Blankenship said:

The coal won’t spoil for a million years. I doubt the tree climbers will be there then.

West Virginia State Police indicated they are taking a similar strategy, according to the AP report, quoting Sgt. M.A. Smith:

We’re going to wait them out as long as we can wait them out, until it gets too dangerous. If I put somebody up in the tree to take them out, it’s going to be a danger. The best thing to do is to keep the others from trespassing and wait them out.

I’m not expert on tree sitting … but if you’re wondering, forced extractions by police are not unheard of … Check out links here, here and here.

Today is the fourth day of the Raleigh County tree sitting protest … you can follow it via the Climate Ground Zero Web site.

Anti-mountaintop removal tree sitters still up there


Word from the folks at Climate Ground Zero is that the two tree sitters down in Raleigh County are still 80 feet up in a couple of tulip poplar trees, despite urging from the State Police that they come down.

We had a Gazette news story on this protest action this morning, and you can get more updates from Climate Ground Zero here.