Winds of Change Newsletter, December 2011 See sidebar for table of contents
Fayette County Activists Continue the Fight Against Frasure Creek Mining, Meet With Activists from India
The eruption of citizen action against strip mining continues to grow in Fayette County. On August 17, 30 Fayette County residents held the DEP and Frasure Creek Mining accountable to the Surface Mine Board during the second stage of an appeal against the Open Fork No. 2 permit.
On behalf of hundreds in Fayette County, lawyer Tom Rist argued that the Open Fork No. 2 permit would jeopardize drinking water for thousands of people served by the Paige Kincaid Public Service District Water System. The Paige Kincaid PSD draws its water from a well drilled within 1,000 feet of the proposed strip mine.
On September 13, about 40 Fayette County residents opposed to strip mining turned out for a public hearing for Frasure Creek’s Open Fork No. 3 permit. They registered their complaints with the DEP. (DEP Public hearings are set up differently now. See "Alert: New DEP Public Hearing Format" on page 10.)
Frasure Creek’s parent company is Essar, an India-based multinational.
Those opposing the company’s permits received a boost to their activism, when, in late September, five Indian activists – who work with communities impacted by Essar and similar companies – visited Fayette County in a cultural exchange made possible by the Sierra Club.
The five are part of the international climate justice movement and Indian social movements working to end the energy industry’s attack on India’s land and communities.
Before their visit to Fayette County, the Indian activists attended the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, held in Washington, DC. They called on the World Bank to follow through with its proposal to dramatically cut funding for coal-burning power stations.
As the activists left DC for Fayette County, one of them told a journalist, "I am looking forward to seeing what the civil society advocacy strategies are here. I want to learn from them, to share our struggle for community rights, for the right to natural resources, to save the land and sea - we feel this struggle is for our survival."
In Oak Hill, on September 23, three of the activists spoke on a panel with three Fayette County residents. Before an audience of 35 people, they connected the local challenges in Appalachia to the global environmental and economic crisis brought about by our over-consumption of energy.
Debi Goenke, head of the Conservation Action Trust in Mumbai, India, told the crowd that Enron, an American corporation, came into India 15 years ago with a controversial power project. "Now we find an Indian company coming to America and destroying your environment. I find that very interesting."
He noted, "It’s not going to be easy to take on a company like Essar. They are big and powerful. They make sure they buy the political support they need."
Goenke caused the crowd to laugh when he recounted his reaction to the "Friends of Coal" signs he saw in Fayette County. "Who actually is the friends of coal – is it those (public relations) guys or is it me? Because as far as I’m concerned, I’d like to leave the coal where it is. Friends don’t burn friends."
"After meeting and listening to you all, we feel we are very much in the same boat," said Vaishali Patil, a leader in the Indian movement to fight mining and coal-fired power projects. "The standard of living is totally different, but we are victims of the same system. We are very hopeful after having met you. We feel we are not all alone fighting."
"No struggle can succeed in isolation," said Soumya Dutta, of Delhi, who works to connect rural populations in India trying to protect their resources.
Fayette County resident Kathryn Hoffman, with the Ansted Historic Preservation Council and a member of OVEC, reminded the crowd that we all need clean air and clean water. "These are human rights issues, and in the future, water is going to be seen as our greatest resource, not coal."
Ginger Danz, who helped organize the Mountain Health and Heritage Association in Fayette County to fight strip mining, told the crowd that OVEC staffer Maria Gunnoe inspired her to action.
"My main concern is how to get people energized about this without losing them to feelings of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems." She said we can work together and make a difference.
Another Fayette County resident, Paul Brown, urged the crowd to ask West Virginia’s politicians: "Do you want mountaintop removal, or do you want tourism? People are not going to come spend their money to see what’s left of our mountains."
With a nod at his fellow panelists from India, Brown added, "They don’t belong to us as West Virginians. They belong to the world."