Winds of Change Newsletter, September 2007 See sidebar for table of contents
Getting the GIST of Grist
The week of August 20, 2007, Grist online magazine featured daily news stories about OVEC members, plus a story about SouthWings. Here are condensed versions of the stories:
Reporter Gabriel Pacyniaks and photographer Katharine Chandlers first stop was Kayford Mountain for the story, "Mountaintop removal mining: Larry Gibson, gatekeeper."
(A)top Kayford Mountain lives Larry Gibson, the unofficial ambassador of the movement to stop mountaintop removal mining, or MTR. Gibson has been fighting MTR for 22 years, and has over 5,000 visitors signed into his guest book. This includes CNNs Anderson Cooper, who showcased Gibson last week on his 360 Heroes program.
In "MTR from the sky," Pacyniak writes about SouthWings, which specializes in flying folks over environmental disasters:
We fly south along the Big Coal River valleyFrom the sky, we see that devastation repeated over and over again. There are at least two or three large mines on the horizon at any time; in the course of our hour and a half flight, we pass more than 50 sites, some larger than a small city.
Next the reporters visit OVEC members Terry, Wilma and Dustin Steele, from Mingo County.
"This is what people around here dont understand, that this is forever," says Terry Steele, a former coal miner who has brought us up to a reclaimed mountaintop removal mine (MTR) site just above his home in Meador Hollow, West Virginia
Terry goes on to tell us how he used to "seng" harvest West Virginias coveted wild ginseng all up and down the mountain for pocket money as a boy. "You wouldnt believe how beautiful this was," he says, "it used to be all hickory, beech and oak." Now the mountaintop is made up largely of grasses, with some sparse locust, pine and the invasive autumn olive.
Terry and (his wife) Wilma were opponents of strip mining on ecological grounds even when Terry was working in the union mines and jobs were scarce.
... What the Steeles cant get over is how little the coal companies and land companies seem to care about the hollow dwellers. Erosion from the MTR site has caused streams to regularly flood after a rain, in one case bad enough to pull the asphalt off the hollow road ... But few people are willing to speak out
"What people need to realize," says Terry angrily, "is that we have had coal mining here for a hundred years and what has it gotten us? We are still one of the poorest counties in the country."
. . . Dustin, Terry and Wilmas grandson, refused to attend his class Earth Day field trip last year in high school. They said, "We are going to take you to a mountaintop removal spot for Earth Day. They had, like, T-shirts, a chartered bus, free food," he explains.
Dustin didnt buy any of it. "Its like taking a field trip to a KKK rally on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day," he told his teacher.
For the next installment on Grist, the reporters traveled to the Mingo County home of OVEC members Charlie and Donna Branham.
Like the other critics of MTR we meet in coal country, Donna and Charlie are directly threatened by MTR. In their case, the mining hasnt started yet ... Laurel Creek Co. has won a permit to open a deep mine on the mountain behind their 113-acre property ...
"When we built this house up here, we thought we were safe from coal mines," says Donna, "but then I started to see the permits."
Charlie ... and Donna have decided to actively fight for their land. With the help of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, they protested the mining permits . In the end, the Branhams lost. Although regulations prohibit mining within 100 feet of a stream or abandoned mine, as was the case here, Laurel Creek won five variances.
... Donna found that everything seems stacked against her. The West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection "seems like its mostly for the mine companies," she says. The local paper wouldnt run a letter to the editor she wrote ... She couldnt get a single politician to support her case. "If I could have my legislator or my senator or even my county commissioner say, Hey, lets protect these peoples rights, lets make sure these coal companies mine responsible, that would make a difference."
As the reporters wound down their visit and prepared for their final installment on Grist, news about mountaintop removal broke nationally.
... The federal Office of Surface Mining has issued new rules that will gut the already weak protections against burying streams during the course of mountaintop removal mining.
The rule change (was not a surprise) to Joe Lovett, executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment ... "The Bush administration will do whatever it takes to get around any court order that we win, he says. "[They] will just not tell the coal industry, Enough is enough, no more valley fills."
...In the coalfields, the outlook among critics is determined but sober. Opponents of MTR, like (OVEC members) Roby and Barbara Chafin, are resolved to prevent (it) as long as they continue to impact their lands. For them, the negatives associated with MTR far outweigh the benefits ...
The turning point for Barb was the flooding from MTR that occurred in her hollow in 1989. Currently, she is fighting against another operation near her house, worried that it might cause a similar disaster...
... Barb ... brings out two samples of water she keeps in her fridge. The one that came from her tap after a big day of blasting is brown; the one that came out of the creek is black.
To see the photos and read all five, complete Grist stories, go to: gristmill.grist.org/story/2007/8/20/154023/594