Update: Tripod is down. EmmaKate and Ben are in custody.
Julian, W.Va. — Two Climate Ground Zero protesters are blocking the driveway to Massey Energy’s Regional Headquarters in Boone County, W.Va.. EmmaKate Martin, 18, is suspended on a platform between three interlocking poles, 30 feet above the road. Ben Bryant, 23, is locked to the base of one pole. A banner hanging from the platform reads “Massey: Profit over People & Mountains: Fight Back!”
This action precedes Tuesday’s Massey Energy Annual Shareholders Meeting in Richmond, V.A.. Mountain Justice and Union organizations, including the United Mine Workers of America, are planning to rally outside of the meeting, encouraging shareholders to take a hard look at Massey Energy and CEO Don Blankenship’s lack of corporate responsibility. Martin and Bryant are blocking the road for similar reasons, including the destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining.
Mountaintop removal mining blasts mountains apart to get to the coal seams beneath, pushing the rubble into nearby valleys. The destruction leads to cracked home foundations, an increase in respiratory diseases and cancer in nearby communities, and poisoned waterways. In some cases, land that has been in families for generations is literally blown apart.
“I used to work for the coal industry, because that’s pretty much the only kind of work you can find around here,” said Junior Walk, 19, a lifelong resident of the Coal River Valley, “It didn’t really register, how much of a scale the destruction was on, until I was a guard at a mine site and I would look out over this wasteland, this moonscape.”
Coal sludge, a byproduct of washing coal to make it burn “cleaner,” is stored in large impoundments that loom over coalfield communities. The Brushy Fork Sludge Dam on Coal River Mountain, operated by Massey subsidiary Marfork Coal, is the tallest earthen dam in North America. The impoundment, permitted to hold 9 billion gallons of coal sludge, rests atop a honeycomb of abandoned underground mines, causing experts, including hydrologist Rick Eades to call its structural integrity into question. By Massey’s own estimates, if the dam were to break, it would kill 998 Coal River Valley residents. Massey is currently blasting a football field’s length away from the impoundment on Coal River Mountain.
“ . . .Something’s got to be done about it, and if no one speaks up, nothing will be,” Walk continued, “I can’t let my home be destroyed, it’s horrible and it needs to be stopped.”
Martin and Bryant released an open letter to Massey Energy’s shareholders, which can be read here.
According to their letter, Martin and Bryant intend to hold their blockade until Massey shareholders “join with the coalition of nine public institutional investors that are asking Massey to withhold support from Don Blankenship and Board of Directors Baxter F. Philips, Richard M. Gabrys, and Dan R. Moore ‘because they have failed to carry out their duties on the Safety, Environmental, and Public Policy Committee,’” and Massey ceases its mountaintop removal operations, and decommissions the Brushy Fork Sludge Impoundment.
This blockade follows one last September, when four activists obstructed the same road using chains and lock boxes. Three, James McGuiness, Joe Hamsher and Fred Williamson, received 20-day sentences for the stand they took that morning. This is the latest action in Climate Ground Zero’s campaign of civil resistance to mountaintop removal.