Two people occupy two treetops at the edge of Massey Energy’s Edwight mountaintop removal site above Pettry Bottom and Peachtree in Raleigh County, West Virginia. At 6:30 a.m., they unrolled two banners reading “Stop Mountain Top Removal” and “DEP – Don’t Expect Protection” from their treetop platforms. They are perched 80 feet above the ground, within 30 feet of the mine, and within the 300 feet of blasting. Blasting is prohibited when people are within such proximity.
Nick Stocks, 25, and Laura Steepleton, 24, of Rock Creek, West Virginia, are in the trees. Kim Ellis, of New Orleans, Louisiana and Zoe Beavers, of Hurricane, West Virginia are on the ground below. All protesters are associated with Climate Ground Zero and Mountain Justice.
“I am sitting in this tree to halt the blasting that endangers the residents of Pettry Bottom and Clays Branch,” Steepleton said. “The people of Pettry Bottom, Clays Branch are living below a land slide waiting to happen and the only barrier between fallen trees, mud, boulders and water and the Pettry Bottom community is a wooden stake and tarp fence. The DEP needs to step in and protect its citizens – not Massey Energy – stop the blasting above Petty Bottom, and end mountaintop removal.”
According to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health publication and multiple cases of citizen documentation, flyrock has been known to land a half-mile from blasting sites. Several homes in Pettry Bottom are within a half-mile radius of the permitted blasting area.
Pettry Bottom resident, Carol Beckner, has stated “Me, my husband and both of my children all suffer from respiratory problems, allergies, bronchitis, and really bad headaches, from constantly breathing in coal and silica dust and toxic fumes like diesel fuel and ammonium nitrates.” The tree sitters say they will not willingly descend until blasting ceases above Pettry Bottom, Massey Energy pays the full cost of healthcare and home repair for Pettry Bottom and Peachtree residents, and the Federal Office of Surface Mining commits to supervising the full reclamation of the Edwight mine.
Army veteran and lifelong West Virginian, Zoe Beavers states “I am on this mountain because I believe that every single West Virginian who is proud of being from ‘Almost Heaven’ should take a stand against mountaintop removal. I am here because DEP officials have failed to stop the blasting. I am putting my body and reputation on the line to do their job and stop the blasting. I served in our military so that we can all live in a country that does not exploit and destroy its land and people.”
This is the thirteenth in a series of non-violent direct actions and protests that have brought together Coal River Valley residents, NASA climate scientist James Hansen, students, underground miners, military veterans, concerned citizens and environmentalists from across the nation with the goal of ending mountaintop removal. This is the third protest in two weeks to focus attention on the WV Department of Environmental Protection and their embattled Secretary, Randy Huffman. It also follows days after the leak of DEP biologist Doug Wood’s memo on the scale of environmental degradation caused by mountaintop removal, directly contradicting Huffman’s statements at a senate hearing last June.