Daryl Hannah: Why I Was Arrested in Coal River, West Virginia

Written by Branden Barber

Topics: Climate

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(Posted by Branden for Daryl who joined RAN’s Michael Brune and others to protest MTR in West Virginia last week.)

Why would I fly across the country on my own dime knowing I would most likely end up in jail in one of the poorest parts of America?

Well, have you ever heard of MTR?

Don’t feel bad, my friends are intelligent well-read and informed people, but most of them had never heard of MTR (Mountain Top Removal) either.

So, I went to Coal River to help bring much needed attention to this hidden, criminal (but somehow legal) form of mining. I was honored to be joining an inspiringly brave group of concerned Americans, which included – NASA climate scientist James Hansen who was among the first to sound the alarm on the climate crisis. The sharp, charismatic, 94 year old, former West Virginia U.S. Representative and Secretary of State Ken Hechler, who was the first congressman to introduce a Federal bill to abolish strip mining in 1971. (If passed the bill could have prevented this mess we find ourselves in). And Michael Brune, executive director of Rainforests Action Network who is committed to ending to this terrible, destructive practice. I was deeply moved to be arrested with those affected by MTR in Kentucky, and the many local residents fighting for their very lives, including a half dozen senior citizens, canes, walkers and all.

Me with Dr. James Hansen at Marsh Fork Elementary School

Me with Dr. James Hansen at Marsh Fork Elementary School

Mountain Top Removal is a devastatingly destructive form of mining and has already destroyed 2,000,000 acres in the Appalachian Mountains.

Coal companies have literally blown up over 500 mountain tops to access the coal seams and then dumped the refuse into the valleys below, killing over 3000 miles of HEADWATER streams. The EPA just gave the go ahead for an additional 42 mountaintops to be blown off with another 6 permits pending.

Mountain Top Removal leaves behind a virtual hideous moonscape of devastated earth, billions of gallons of poisonous toxic sludge, and boarded up towns with dramatically high rates of cancer.

Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for, and am deeply indebted to the miners working in coalmines and on MTR projects who risk their lives daily to bring power to our country. I understand they feel threatened by anything that might take away their jobs. And, I don’t want to see them lose more jobs, as 75% of mining jobs have already been lost to the machines and explosives of MTR.

While it takes fewer miners to remove coal with Mountain Top Removal there are just as many dangers, accidents and fatalities! It is a cheaper way for the companies to mine and that’s why it’s becoming so pervasive.

Yesterday, I received this email from a woman in Virginia -

Dear Daryl,
Thank you so much for coming to West Virginia and trying to save our mountains from Mountain top removal. I am a 9th generation Appalachian and it pains us to see what is happening. If it was not for the Internet I wouldn’t have known about your efforts. Massey has quite a bit of influence of the local media in the coalfields. I am sorry you were arrested but I thank you for standing up for what is right.  We need to work on sustainable communities here in the mountains so that coal miners will have opportunities for jobs not so dangerous. My brother works, when he can’t find anything else, at the mines driving the large dump trucks that haul the coal out of the pits. It’s dangerous work even if you are not underground. You just wouldn’t believe the equipment they give them to work with. This one site he was in this massive huge dump truck that the floorboard was rusted out with open holes. Rocks would fly back into the cab from the tires. And when it rains, it’s a mudslide. One of his co -workers was killed when the dump truck went over an embankment last year. Reporting gets you fired. And yet these workers will defend the job because there is nothing else. So thank you for standing up with us. We do appreciate it.

Then there’s the sickness…

According to WVU’s institute for health policy research, coal county residents are more likely to suffer from chronic heart, lung and kidney diseases, cancers and generally suffer from excess numbers of premature death. There’s a high cancer risk for up to 1 out of every 50 Americans living near the more than 100 billion gallons of toxic sludge in the clay-lined and unlined  (the majority unlined) coal ash landfills and slurry ponds, such as the TVA Kingston ash sludge landfill that collapsed into the Emory River in December.

Tennessee Valley Authority officials consistently have said the ash spilled in December from the utility’s Kingston Fossil Plant wet landfill in Harriman, Tenn., and in January from its Widows Creek pond in Stevenson, Ala., is non-hazardous…  but after the spill, regulatory and independent testing have found high levels of toxicity in the spilled waste and raw water where the two spills occurred. 31 of the landfills and slurry ponds in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama are on or near major waterways!

The slurry pond above the Marsh fork elementary school where we held our protest holds 2.8 billion gallons (it’s one of the smallest ponds – one nearby in brushing fork holds 9 billion gallons) of sludge in unlined pits containing arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.

Marsh Fork Elementary School site and toxic holding pond

Marsh Fork Elementary School site and toxic holding pond

Tragically but predictably in coal river valley, the children are often sick with headaches and asthma and of the 200 students and teachers at Marsh fork elementary school cancer rates are higher than average.

Three teachers have died from cancer and one is struggling with disease now.

In 2005 one student died from ovarian cancer at age seventeen and another was still battling ovarian cancer.

Today I received this from a man in Raleigh County, West Virginia –

West Virginia. It is hell.
Every morning a 6 am my cat starts coughing. My eyes burn, my nose burns (sometimes bleeds), I get ill, and my health continues to fall apart. I got two forms of cancer, I can’t drink the water.. and we are 15 miles from Marsha Fork where they are making (was supposed to be shut down) a cyanide based pesticide that in an accident killed 1800 people in India. My kid is lead poisoned, my wife is- and in a mile radius 10 people have had heart attacks or died from whatever is here. The dust is full of arsenic and the Massey power plants create a blue haze which is really sulfuric acid. EPA won’t come near this place. It is owned by the coal industry. Thousands, who live here and are dying from 100 miles of rivers under coal sludge, Do the earth a favor and check on this and if you feel like improving our life send us a ticket out of here. I am sending you a picture of my son. He is being poisoned here. It breaks my heart. We cannot even get workman’s comp and have huge families. We are the poor of southern West Virginia..

State regulators are telling the people that it’s an “improvement” to flatten a forested mountain, seed it with grass and hope that some shrubs will grow – and then allow hunters who have signed “the appropriate waivers of liability, indemnifications and assumptions of risks” to hunt whatever animals might choose to inhabit such barren fields.

As humorist Dave Barry says, we’re not making this up, although we wish we were.

Let me make one thing clear…  there is no such thing as clean coal!!!

I wish President Obama would stop using the term and take CEQ chief Nancy Sutley and EPA head Lisa Jackson to visit these unfortunate mining sites under their jurisdiction.

When we flip the switch to turn our lights on, most of us have no idea where that power comes from. According to the U.S. dept. of energy, more than 50% of our electricity comes from coal.

Coal emits much more carbon (CO2) per unit of energy than oil and natural gas. From the acid drainage of mines polluting rivers and streams, to the release of mercury and other toxins when its burned into the atmosphere, the fine particulates that wreak havoc on human health, and the colossal waste, coal pollutes every step of the way.

“Clean coal” is the industry’s attempt to “clean up” its dirty image – the industry’s green wash buzzword. It is not a new type of coal. “Clean coal” methods only move pollutants from one waste stream to another.  Coal is a dirty business!

The good news is we have a solution! A study of the long-term benefits of INFINITE Wind Power versus FINITE coal MTR in Coal River Mountain, West Virginia already exists. They show “excellent potential” for efficiency, productivity and economic benefit. Though it doesn’t have short-term financial returns, wind promises to provide clean, inexpensive energy and offer scores of safe jobs for the long term. Just check out the staggering figures from a report released by the American Wind Energy Association “wind industry jobs jumped to 85,000 in 2008, a 70% increase from the previous year”. Renewable energy will continue to grow exponentially where as mining jobs have decreased or remained relatively stagnant at “81,000 workers” for the over 20 years, according to the 2007 U.S. dept of energy report.

I can understand why those who live in coal towns are frustrated, because while we have this technology available to us NOW – it is still just “a promise” in these regions.

Being led away by the police

Being led away by the police

It’s imperative we let our president, our elected public servants and entrepreneurs know that this is where we want our investment to be directed.

Hopefully some wise, forward thinking heroes will step up the plate, build the wind farm and take this incredible win, win, wind, opportunity to bury the dirty dinosaur of Mountain Top Removal forever.

Daryl Hannah

You can follow Daryl on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dhlovelife

5 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Dave Cooper says:

    ” … we are 15 miles from Marsha Fork where they are making (was supposed to be shut down) a cyanide based pesticide that in an accident killed 1800 people in India.”

    Someone is really confused here. The Bayer (formerly Union Carbide) plant using Methyl Isocyanate is in Institute WV just west of Charleston, and not anywhere near the Marsh Fork School. This is the chemical that tragically killed people in Bhopal, India. I am told by someone who used to work at the Massey Goals Coal plant that there is a very dangerous form of ammonia used next tot he school – and also there is the danger of a silo dust explosion. At any rate, it is insane to allow this next to the school. Gov. Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall – what are you thinking?

  2. Judy Bonds says:

    I want to once again thank Ms. Hannah for coming to the Coal River Valley to stand with us and to raise awareness about the crime of strip mining. Ms. Hannah showed courage and poise in a “hairy” situation. Bless you Ms. Hannah.

  3. jamie p rakes says:

    copied from my blog

    this unfortunately, is a jumbled, jumping mess, but i worked last night, and im tired as shit…

    the idea of letting someone come in here, who has no ties to this area, has no family here, and whose lives are not and will not be affected by what happens in west virginia is borderline lunacy…

    daryl hannah comes in… (and others come in who are not from west virginia and again, are not affected by the “cause” they champion) causing an uproar, bringing all this negative attention that could inevitably help pass legislation and sway public opinion causing thousands to lose their jobs, and either live in poverty or LEAVE wv (and statistically, wv has the highest number of people leaving their home state in the country)…

    then what?

    these people get to go back home, sleep in their comfy beds, reap the personal benefits of their involvment, (whether financial, personal, or simply to fullfill their god complex ego needs) and move on while the area suffers…

    you think if legislation is passed, bringing changes, and causing thousands to be out of work, you think daryl hannah (or any other celebrity whore) will come back to wv, give out some money, work a food kitchen, help all of those she helps put out of work? you think she will come back, and lobby for assitance programs to help re-educate and place these miners in other jobs?

    after she’s reaped the benefits of her championing her cause, newspaper articles, television shows… when its all said and done, you think she will go back on tv, and try to do anything to assist and help those she so “nobly” bankrupted?

    no, because thats not a cause thats trendy, its not egotistical enough…
    she gets to go home, call her agent, and decide which new justified “cause” could garner her more personal attention and gain…

    honestly, when was the last time you saw “daryl hannah” in a headline or news report… it is not coincidence that as her career is nearing its death, that she comes in and gets her name splashed across websites and newspapers? where the hell was she, during the height of her career? where was her nobility then? it was nonexistant… she was too busy making movies and money to be concerned with us poor defenseless west virginians… but now that the roles arent pouring in like they once were, now that she has TIME to come and be our savior, we should blindly believe that its all out of good nature? we should believe that in no way could she possibly be here to exploit an issue for personal gain that thus far, no bigger “celebrity” has came to endorse…

    i understand coal companies have been exploiting the area for hundred years, but to accept that it is okay to allow someone else to exploit you as long as it undermines other exploitation is guillible… to simply accept without questioning motives is idiotic, but the bigger atrocity is to accept the possibility of exploitation as the motive simply because you feel that it may benefit you… it equates to a pimp and a whore… pimp exploits a woman who accepts her exploitation because she gets to keep some of the money she makes and offers her protection… i will not accept being someone elses whore…

    i am NOT defending mountaintop removal at all… but by pushing the issue to tighten restrictions and sanctions on it before having some type of recovery program for the thousands that could potentially be put out of work is economic suicide, and regional genocide… it is just as ridiculous as george bush and cock cheney’s stance on Iraq- lacking an exit strategy, or simply put, what do we do now that we have succeeded?

  4. bo webb says:

    I understand where Jamie P is coming from, but I think Jamie needs to look a little further. Mountaintop removal does affect everyone. What directly affects one American indirectly effects all Americans. What is taking place here in the Appalachian coalfields is a subversion of democracy. Our constitution was written with great care and thought. Equal protection under the law and by the law is afforded to all Americans. That equal protection is not afforded to those that live near mtr operations.
    I live directly beneath a mtr site, the same one that hovers over Marsh Fork Elementary School. I have witnessed fly-rock coming off that site. Many basketball sized rocks have been blown off or rolled down the mountain towards my home including one the size of a car hood that landed within 100 feet of my garden. The blasting so near our homes spreads silica dust into the air we are breathing. Black water spills have occurred many times here on Coal River. In Dec. of 2007 a huge spill of toxic coal waste poured out of a pumping station at the Brushy Fork Dam and into the Coal River, and down into the town of Whitesville’s drinking water pumping station. I was there and witnessed this spill and reported it to the WV DEP. The river was jet black and the pumping station was still pumping drinking water from it for a couple of hours before shutting the pumps down. Massey did not bother to notify the town until they were aware that the WV DEP was on their way. These black water spills contain the toxic chemicals and heavy metals associated with prepping coal for shipment to coal fired power plants.
    Water rolls down hill. The drinking water supply for much of the east coast and mid Atlantic comes from the head water source streams of the Appalachian Mountains. Black water spills are not the only danger to these drinking water sources but the head-water source streams themselves are being buried in strip mining waste that includes selenium, arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals that are being disturbed by blasting and dumping.
    Absolutely nothing justifies this type of mining. Not jobs, not energy supply. President Obama has designated billions of dollars of stimulas money to rebuild and repair America’s infrastructure. Mountaintop removal could be banned today and tomorrow those same workers could go to work turning their bull dozers around and begin to repair the overwhelming damage that mountaintop removal has done to our mountains and water supply. Over a million acres of carbon capturing forest have been destroyed by mtr. If we are to be serious about addressing global climate change then a logical first step is to ban mtr today and get to work at creating a sustainable future for our children tomorrow. I hope Jamie P and others can begin to understand the connection that mtr has on all of our lives, and the lives of the yet to be born.

  5. Chuck Nelson says:

    I want to personally thank Daryl for taking the time, and putting herself in harms way, to bring awareness to the worst environmental destruction that is happening in our nation today. I have great respect for someone of her caliber, taking the time to send a strong message that people are dying throughout the country, because of our nation’s addiction to coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, and also the major contributor to global warming. Thank you so much. Chuck Nelson, a retired underground miner.

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