The message was like a punch in the gut: "The blasting has begun."
Coal River Mountain in southern West Virginia, heretofore America's "most endangered" mountain, is now under assualt by Massey Energy, the nation's fourth-largest coal company and the worst offender when it comes to the worst coal mining there is -- mountaintop removal.
Starting with that email from Appalachian Voices late on Friday, and continuing with a flurry of messages over the weekend, it appears that the heavy equipment on top of Coal River Mountain is now operating and the blasting has begun. (Jeff Biggers provides exclusive photos on his blog.) Massey's mountaintop removal operation would destroy over 6,000 acres of Coal River Mountain, wipe out 10 square miles of lush forests, create 18 valley fills, devastate the Clear Fork watershed, and ruin the lives of local residents who have been fighting valiantly to defend the homeland they hold so dear.
Bear in mind that the company is detonating high-explosives close to the notorious Brushy Fork impoundment, an enormous earthen retention pond holding more than 8 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry waste. This impoundment is just up the valley beyond the Shumate Dam (pictured below), which also holds back billions of gallons of coal sludge and is perched just a few hundred yards above Marsh Fork Elementary School.
If the blasting on Coal River Mountain causes the Brushy Fork pond to rupture, the resulting sludge flash-flood could threaten the lives of people living downstream.
Aside from that obvious disaster, the mining means the death of an alternative energy project that would be a win-win for the community. You see, Coal River Mountain has the highest peaks ever slated for mining in the state of West Virginia. According to a study conducted for Coal River Wind, this mountain is an ideal location for a commercial-scale clean energy project that would protect the environment while providing more jobs than Massey's coal mining operation. But a leveled mountain means the loss of elevation that would power those wind turbines.
To date, West Virginia's governor, Joe Manchin, has rejected the pleas of local residents to save the mountain by supporting the wind project. Other elected officials have also side-stepped the controversy. Given that the Obama administration has taken tentative steps toward curtailing mountaintop removal in Appalachia, perhaps the last, best hope for Coal River Mountain lies in Washington, D.C.
Please take a moment to call President Obama today at 202-456-1414 and implore him to mobilize federal agencies to stop the senseless destruction of Coal River Mountain immediately.