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News :: Environment : Globalization : Human Rights : International : Labor : Organizing
Saving the Southern Appalachian Mountains
08 Apr 2005

Saving the Southern Appalachian Mountains
The Mountain Justice Summer Coalition
By Micah Lee
The Student Underground

The Appalachian Mountains, stretching from northern Mississippi to southern New York, are the oldest and most biologically diverse mountains in the world, and also the most threatened. Mountain top removal (MTR), a new form of coal mining in which companies dynamite the tops of mountains to collect the coal underneith, destroys entire ranges of mountains, and the southern Appalachians are in the crosshairs. Environmentalists, workers’ rights advocates, human rights advocates, and other grassroots activists are preparing for Mountain Justice Summer, an intense campaign of non-violent direct action for the entire region that is aimed at raising awareness of MTR and its many devestating effects.

The Appalachian coal industry, called “King Coal” by those who oppose it, has been strip mining for coal underneath the mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and the surrounding areas since the late 1800s. King Coal has recently started doing mountain top (or mountain range) removal. The coal industry has coined many less menacing names for it, such as cross range mining, surface mining, and others. But regardless of any euphemism, MTR remains among the most pernicous forms of mining ever conceived. According to the environmentalist group Appalachian Voices, this form of mining involves “clear cutting native hardwood forests, using dynamite to blast away 800-1000 feet of mountaintop, and then dumping the debris into nearby valleys forever burying streams.”

“[MTR is an] ecocidal mining practice in which greedy coal companies use millions of pounds of dynamite a day (three million pounds a day in southwest Virginia alone) to blow up entire mountain ranges in order to extract a very small amount of coal,” said Fred Mooney, o­ne of the many organizers of the Mountain Justice Summer Coalition and an active member of Mountain Faction of Katuah Earth First! “Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, they dump the waste into valleys and riverbeds. The combination of these elements effectively kills everything in the ecosystems. Despite how horrific clear cuts may be, the trees may eventually grow back. O­nce a mountain has been blown up and the water poisoned, there is no coming back.”

Besides being an environmental catastrophe, MTR also has serious labor and human rights repercussions. Blowing up mountains requires fewer workers than traditional methods of mining, so there are fewer employment opportunities available. More than 40,000 jobs have been lost to MTR in West Virginia alone, and it hinders the tourist industry as well, according to a Call to Action released by Mountain Justice Summer.

Marsh Fork Elementary School, in Raleigh County, West Virginia, is located directly below a coal slurry which contains over two billion gallons of toxic sludge. According to Mooney, “This massive lake is held in place o­nly by a small earthen dam which have given way in the past. If this was to happen during school hours it would kill every student and teacher in the school in a matter of minutes. Already a handful of people at the school, students and teachers, have died of cancer that is linked to the mountain top removal project.”

In o­ne instance, a child was killed due to the effects of MTR. In August of 2004, in the town of Appalachia, Virginia, a six hundred pound boulder smashed through the wall of Dennis and Cindy Davidson’s house, killing their sleeping 3-year-old son, Jeremy, and stopping right before reaching the bed of Zachary, their 8-year-old son. The boulder was dislodged while widening a road for a MTR operation o­n Black Mountain. The state mining agency fined the coal corporation $15,000, which appealed the fine and lost their appeal. The Davidson’s have since filed a $26.5 million lawsuit against the mining operators, according to the Washington Post.

In response to the loss of jobs, the death of local residents, and the devastation and rape of the environment, the southern Appalachians have been buzzing with activists’ cries. Amidst this buzz was born the Mountain Justice Summer Coalition, a group of grassroots groups and individuals from western North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky that are dedicated to a non-violent direct action campaign for the Summer of 2005.

“The Bush Administration changed part of the Clean Water Act so that these companies could dump waste into water ways. But more importantly, it doesn’t matter what the laws are; these companies will do whatever they like, and this is exactly why we feel that Mountain Justice Summer is needed. We want to bring these coal companies to their knees, and we know that laws and regulations will never do that,” said Mooney.

“The tactics that we’re using had to escalate because we’re losing; we’re losing mountains, and it’s about to happen o­n a scale that’s unprecedented. Mountain Justice Summer is a call to action to save the mountains,” said Chris Irwin, a Mountain Justice Summer organizer from Knoxville, Tennessee.

The Mountain Justice Summer Coalition has monthly meetings in which strategy is discussed, dates are mapped out, and all decisions are made based o­n a system of consensus. The southern Appalachians have been separated into semi-autonomous regions that have their own regular meetings. All the work is done by volunteers. People participating in the campaign will be part of a mobile staff of activists that can be deployed to different regions at different times to help out the locals, and to participate in coordinated days of action. During the first week of the Summer, a general training camp is being planned where participants will learn basic skills, particularly medical skills to minimize potential injury. A few weeks later will be a back woods camp in which participants will train in camping, sleeping and living in trees, camouflage, stealth invasion, and other field work. Roughly half of the summer will be spent doing field work while the other half will be grassroots activism in towns. Participants will spend their time with a wide variety of tasks, including taxonomic inventories, stream inventories, mountain biking, boating, photography, direct action, door to door outreach, and demonstrations. “We’re just a bunch of tree hugging granola munchers trying to stop this horrible process,” said Irwin.

Some of the major coal corporations that are involved in MTR include National Coal Corporation, which is located in Knoxville and is carrying out the first MTR project in Tennessee; A&G Coal Corp., which operates in southwest Virginia and was responsible for the death of 3-year-old Jeremy Davidson; Massey Energy Company, which owns the MTR project above Marsh Fork Elementary School; and Arch Coal, which is highly active in West Virginia. While these companies operate in the southern Appalachians, they have financial backers all over the country. Some of these include American Express Financial, conveniently located in Boston, which is a major backer of Massey; and Crestview Capital Funds, which is a backer of National Coal and is located outside of Chicago. The organizers hope to see multiple acts of non-violent direct action take place all over the country in solidarity with the people of Appalachia.

Mooney emphasized that “the issue of mountain top removal is not just a local o­ne. It is intertwined with many global issues such as corporate domination of communities, the homogenization of local cultures and the over consumption of our wasteful society. Appalachia is a sacrifice zone for Americans to get cheaper energy. This can also be said of Iraq, Columbia, Burma, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and all other places in the world where fossil fuels are being extracted at the cost of human life and ecological health. Hopefully Mountain Justice Summer will put southern Appalachia o­n the map of places globally that are successfully resisting the free trade tyranny.”

If you would like to participate in the campaign to save the mountains, the organizers emphasize to come autonomously, ready to support yourself as best you can as far as food and supplies go. The organizers will help as much as possible, but their resources are extremely limited. Donations are welcomed, and checks can be made payable to Mountain Justice Summer. More information about the campaign can be found at
See also:

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Re: Saving the Southern Appalachian Mountains
08 Apr 2005
this should be of interest to anyone who's from the south. hopefully I'll see you in the mountains?
Re: Saving the Southern Appalachian Mountains
09 Apr 2005
You horrid blue freaks need to keep your greedy socialist hands off of Appalachia. These are the people you regularly sneer at unless you can exploit them in your effort to destroy America.
I'd rather America become a nuclear wasteland than your horrid, pandering we-are-the-world petting zoo.
You mindless cretins are such laughable pawns. I spit on your slut souls.
Re: Saving the Southern Appalachian Mountains
09 Apr 2005
This action has been conceived and planned by people from East Tennessee. They're asking for help.
How in Hell are people from east tennessee "horrid blue state freaks?"
Check out Tennessee Indymedia for more.
Oh, and despite the fact I have lived in Washington, Texas, Maine, Arizona, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, I do not sneer at people from Appalachia. I do sneer at coal companies destroying Appalachia for the profit of elites in NYC, LA, London, Tokyo, and elsewhere.
Re: Saving the Southern Appalachian Mountains
01 May 2005
To Whom it may concern:
I was greatly interested in the article concerning the Appalachian cause to stop strip mining and mining tactics in the Raleigh county area.
My mother grew up in Dry Creek West Virginia and I have just finished a novel ~The story takes place in the heart of Raleigh county. Our family farm has been in the Daniel family for over a hundred years.
My mother was homecoming queen at Marsh fork High school and will be celebrating her forty five year reunion this summer. I pray something can be done to save our beautiful mountains. I live in New Smyrna Beach FL, but my heart has and will be in Dry Creek WV. What can I do to help. I would be happy to write something~incredibly, I didn't even know much about this matter.
Phone 386-423-0380
xtra~e-mail: ollieandpj (at)