tells of the dramatic struggle around the use of coal, which provides
over half the electricity in America.
miners and residents are locked in conflict: is mining
and processing coal essential to providing good jobs, or is it destroying the land,
water and air? What does this mean for the rest of America and the world?
ANOTHER CIVIL WAR
Passions are running high in the mountains of Appalachia. Families and communities are deeply
split over what is being done to their land. At issue is the latest form of strip mining called
‘mountaintop removal’, or MTR. Coal companies blast the tops off mountains, and run the
debris into valleys and streams. Then they mine the exposed seams of coal and transport
it to processing plants. Coal is mined more cheaply than ever, and America needs coal.
But the air and water are filled with chemicals,
and an ancient mountain range is disappearing forever.
THE PEOPLE IN THE MOVIE
KATHY SELVAGE’s father was a coalminer and a decades-long member of the UMWA.
But when MTR began to tear her community apart, KATHY could not remain silent.
She and her neighbors couldn’t sleep at night, couldn’t keep their windows open
because of the noise and dust. Her mother could not sit on her front porch. KATHY
respects miners, but she can no longer bear the destruction. She watches residents
contend with continual blasting from MTR sites that are 300 feet from their homes
and operate 24 hours a day. This coalminer’s daughter became a grass-roots organizer.
RANDALL MAGGARD is a manager at a coal company. He likes his job and doesn’t believe
that MTR is a problem. To him, the protesters are ‘tree-huggers’ who overreact to
small discomforts and don’t really understand how important coal is for the country.
Every time the activists prevent a new mining permit, all he sees are jobs being lost. RANDALL
also points to ‘reclamation’ on MTR sites, where the flattened land is either re-planted
or is turned into valuable real estate for new housing and industrial parks.
Here is a link to a series of pictures that Randall submitted on behalf of Argus Energy showing
the company side of restoration after mining. CLICK HERE
CEO of Massey Energy, DON BLANKENSHIP is the ultimate free marketeer, a trendy
niche in this day of seething resentment against government big and small. He has clever
names for environmentalists (greeniacs) and brainless congressmen (scarecrows). His
outspoken hatred of taxes and regulations won him a seat on the board of directors
of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He has no use for unions and he abhors “nuisance”
lawsuits, though he’s filed a few. A few years ago, he spent millions to run a judge out
of office. Last year, Blankenship forked over $1 million to help sponsor the huge
“Friends of America” rally, which brought 70,000 people to a reclaimed mountaintop
removal mine in West Virginia to watch big-time entertainers and listen to rants about
environmentalists and government regulators. “Washington and state politicians have
no idea how to improve miner safety,” Blankenship told a cheering crowd at that rally.
“The very idea that they care more about coal miner safety than we do is as silly as global warming.”
Government regulators have fined Blankenship’s companies repeatedly over the years.
Recently, an explosion in the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, W. Va., killed 25
workers. Four more men are missing. It’s the worst mining disaster in 25 years. The
cause so far is unknown. But Kevin Stricklin, an administrator with the federal Mine
Safety and Health Administration, stated the obvious when he told news organizations:
“Something went very wrong here.” Blankenship has invested heavily in defiance over the years.
His companies paid $4.2 million in fines and penalties after two workers died in a fire
in a Blankenship mine in 2006. His primary company, Massey Energy, paid a $20 million
fine in 2008 for clean water violations found by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2004, Blankenship contributed $3 million to fund a deceptive advertising campaign
that unseated a West Virginia state Supreme Court judge. The benefactor of that largess
responded by tipping the court balance in a decision that threw out a $50 million jury verdict
against Massey Energy. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the “bought”
judge should have disqualified himself from the case.
These examples represent just a sliver of the money Blankenship has spent over
the years paying fines, fighting unions and contributing to candidates and political groups
nationwide that share his disdain for taxes, regulations and environmental concerns. Better
that he would have invested those dollars in safety precautions and worker training at his mines.
Twenty-nine men might be safe if he had.
Blankenship is a brazen member of a club that promotes its own interests by tearing
down any individual or institution that might stand in its way. The spin is working.
Americans have heard so much about “corrupt” unions, “greedy” trial lawyers, “activist”
judges and “job-killing” regulators that a good percentage of us think we’d be better
off without any of them. We wouldn’t. In fact, safety inspectors and regulators need
more clout to protect workers in dangerous jobs. Judges need a separation from big
money and electoral politics. Unions need more authority to insist on safe conditions
for workers. No one was cheering Don Blankenship’s blustery, free-market principles this
week. According to The New York Times, he prepared to address a crowd outside his
mangled mine but was shouted down. People accused him of putting profit ahead of
workers’ lives. Someone threw a chair. Police officers escorted the coal executive from
the scene. Blankenship should have heeded the judges, unions and regulators whom
he so reviled. Turns out they could have protected him.
JOE LOVETT is the only lawyer in West Virginia whose time is devoted entirely
to environmental issues, particularly mountain-top removal. JOE works with local
groups and individuals to file suits against state and federal agencies, trying to prevent
new permits for mines and processing plants, or at least make the coal companies adhere
to existing laws. JOE says, “There are good laws on the books. The Clean Water Act is a
good law. But it isn’t enforced.” He says there is no such thing as ‘clean coal’. When
asked what role coal should play in our energy future, Joe says, “None”.
Both sides in this conflict claim that history is on their side. Families have lived in the
region for generations. Most have ancestors who worked in the mines. Everyone
shares a deep love for the land, but MTR is tearing them apart.
NOTE: Judy Bonds passed away on January 3rd, 2011 from terminal cancer resulting from breathing
toxic coal dust, synthetic fuel dust, blasting dust, drinking "black" water, and living her whole life in
Coal River Valley close to a Massey
Coal Strip Mine.
We will all miss Judy very much.
JUDY Bonds was a winner of the Emma Goldman Award from the Sierra Club, and
one of the key figures in Coal River Mountain Watch. JUDY told us that the river was
named when coal was first discovered there in 1749 by a man named John Peter Saley.
Then she said, “If he had known what agony it would have caused, he’d have
covered it up and kept his mouth shut.” Judy also worked with Christians for the Mountains,
believing that "God meant for us to be good stewards of His creation". She has educated
herself about the science and the economics of coal and the best ways to navigate the
regulatory commissions of West Virginia. Her speeches and protests are well-known;
she felt under constant threat from coal supporters, with people setting off firecrackers
in her driveway or planting recording devices on her power pole. She installed three
security cameras on her house, and claimed she knew how to use her rifle.
Chuck Nelson is a retired union coal miner who spent 35 years underground. When
Massey Energy built a processing plant in his home town of Sylvester, West Virginia,
CHUCK was horrified by the dust and debris threatening the town. He began to protest.
He lost his job and his family home. In order to get health insurance, CHUCK had to take
a job for a non-union mine…run by Massey Energy. Now CHUCK works full time with the
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC). We follow him as he helps organize another
community trying to protect its land and water.
Young, from Racine, Ohio, lives on farmland that has been her family for 7 generations.
She originally dreamed of starting a sustainable living and teaching center and farming
organically, but found herself embroiled in coalfield struggles after witnessing multiple
neighbors die from coal-attributable deaths, cancer and asthma. With 4 power plants
visible from their farm, her community has the highest asthma and lung cancer death
rate in the state, the shortest life expectancy, and are in the top 3rd percentile for the
worst air quality in the nation. Five more plants now proposed threaten to make her
community the largest concentration of coal-fired power plants in the nation: Nine within
an 11.5 mile radius. After learning the 40 years of mining proposed to fuel them would
encompass her farm, she founded the grassroots community group, Meigs Citizens Action Now!
Officials say the new plants would create hundrends of jobs. Young believes "clean" coal
would create intolerable living conditions. The nearby village of Cheshire that her family
settled was recently bought and depopulated by energy giant American Electric Power
as the result of "clean" coal gone bad. Four of the five proposed new power plants
would use Ingetrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology that some view
as a solution, but have created superfund sites from water contamination issues with
arsenic, cyanide, and chromium even when done on a much smaller scale. Young
believes coal and sustainable energy jobs of the future are incompatible, and has
chosen to fight through the regulatory and legal systems to keep her community from
being sacrificed for "cheap" electricity. One of the proposed power plants, AMP Ohio, h
has threatened to sue her for this resistance.
KATHY, CHUCK, JUDY and ELISA are average people who have learned to negotiate
complex journeys through local, state and federal lawmaking. They have gone beyond
their own expectations of themselves and the patterns set for their lives. We will experience
the enormous challenges they face, as well as their failures and achievements.
RANDY and his colleagues are equally passionate about protecting jobs for the people
of their state. They believe that the environmentalists may kill coal mining in West Virginia,
and then the state will truly become an economic disaster.
JOE is the professional who guides the activists through the legal and regulatory system.
Part of the film’s narrative will come from following the progress of several of JOE’s lawsuits.
To illuminate these themes, the film will offer comments from the following, among others:
Patrice Simms, Senior Project Attorney, NRDC
Michael Shnayerson, Vanity Fair, author COAL RIVER
Ken Hechler, former Secretary of State, West Virginia
Dr. Philippe Jamet, French Attaché for Science and Technology, Washington DC
Gene Kitts, Vice President, ICG
Dr. Michael Hendryx, Professor, WVU
AN URGENT DISCUSSION:
FUEL FOR THE FUTURE
Some experts believe that nuclear, hydropower, geothermal, wind, solar, and biomass
energy sources will be important, but won't be able to meet the world’s energy
demands in the foreseeable future.
Some say coal reserves will last nearly 200 years, and that it should be the focus of a
domestic energy policy. They claim that new technology can reduce carbon emissions
and provide ‘clean coal’. Even President Obama has talked about investing in clean coal
technology. Opponents insist there is no such thing.
We will examine the proposed methods for cleaning up the use of coal: carbon
sequestration, which allows carbon content to be captured and pumped into underground
storage sites, and better filtering at coal processing plants.
In this time of debate about America’s reliance on foreign oil and fear of increasing energy
costs, coal can look attractive. The public must be made aware of the controversy around coal;
they must be given the information behind it and the opportunity to participate in the
debate over America’s energy future.
THE TRUE COST OF COAL
Coal company manager Randall Maggard stressed to us that their new Highwall Miner
as a newer more efficient method of extracting coal that is both safer and doesn't require
the removal of the mountaintop. This site has been backfilled and was seeded in March and
is now a level area where Freelin Browning (the property owner) wants to plant an
apple orchard on this fall.The movie was made to offer views from both sides of the issue
to foster better ways to compromise, and take a look at coal mining with compassion,
Coal is very far from the minds of most Americans, and this film may make you consider,
for a moment, where the energy comes from to run the machinery of our daily lives.
We hear so much about the need for oil; politicians debate over wind farms and solar
power. But few of us even realize that coal remains an important energy source, and that
the methods of mining and processing coal are significant causes of global warming. We
need to understand the meaning behind promises of “cheap energy” and “clean coal”.
Are they achievable? And at what cost?
We tell the compelling story of modern coal mining through the daily activities of working
miners as well as those who are battling the coal companies in Appalachia. Their personal
stories are the touchstone for our exploration of the true cost of coal and the search for
alternatives sources of energy. Are the people fighting MTR really protecting the earth,
or do they stand in the way of affordable energy for all Americans?
Jordan Freeman is an independent videographer based in Rock Creek, WV. He was a primary
videographer for the film Coal Country. He has also worked with Coal River Mountain Watch,
Climate Ground Zero, and the Ohio Valley environmental coalition documenting events for web
release. Originally coming to the Coal River from Santa Cruz, CA in 2005, Freeman has spent
the last three years documenting the unfolding controversies surrounding
coal mining throughout Appalachia.
Executive Producer: Mari-Lynn Evans
Written, Produced and Directed by Phylis Geller
COAL COUNTRY copyright 2011 Evening Star Productions - all rights reserved - SITE BY (CR2)3 MEDIA