Actress Daryl Hannah, NASA scientist James Hansen and former U.S. Rep. Ken Hechler were among 31 people arrested Tuesday as they and several hundred others protested mountaintop removal mining in southern West Virginia.

Those arrested were released after being cited for impeding traffic and obstructing an officer when they sat down in a road near a Massey Energy Co. subsidiary’s coal processing plant, The Associated Press reported.

Another woman, who was among a crowd of mining industry supporters, was charged with misdemeanor battery.

The arrests followed a rally near the plant’s coal storage silo. After the rally, protesters marched quietly to the plant and attempted to enter the property, but were blocked by several hundred coal miners shouting, ‘Go home.’

Miner Fred Griggs, who works at a Massey surface operation, told AP he was there ‘defending my job.’ He said, ‘I’ve got to support my family.’

Yet in reality, mountaintop mining is “a job killer for miners, not a job creator,” says West Virginian John Case, who writes on economics and the labor movement. “Mountaintop mining requires the least labor per pound of coal of all mining technologies. The only thing that can be said in its favor, for miners, is that it is less dangerous than deep core mining.”

Mountaintop mining involves blasting away ridgetops to expose coal seams. While mine operators typically are required to return the mountain to its approximate original shape, excess material is used to fill valleys, burying miles of streams.

“There is no demonstrated means of making it ‘clean,’ or to repair its damage to the environment in terms of lost streams and toxic runoffs,” says Case.

‘It’s not necessary,’ Hannah said before she was arrested. ‘If you do it wisely, there are ways to use renewables. It’s realistic for everybody.’

Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, criticized the Obama administration for not banning the practice. The administration does plan to tighten regulation of it.

Case, who hosts the morning “Winners and Losers” radio show out of Shepherdstown, W.Va., says, “One of the bitter ironies in West Virginia politics is that it remains the second poorest state in the nation despite having abundant natural resources and two of the most powerful senators in the United States Congress: Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller. It seems they are not so powerful as the mining industry which has maintained a 150-year lock on state economic policy even in the face of steadily declining employment.”

That industry lock on state policy, Case said, “is accomplished, in part, by having mining industry employees run for state legislative offices while remaining on corporate payrolls. State legislative offices do not compensate elected officials enough to permit most to run without employer sponsorship.”

The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. notes, “The coal industry in West Virginia and across Appalachia is not the economic force it once was. A new and growing body of research by academics not only points out the huge public health costs, but questions the long-held conventional wisdom that coal is good for the region’s economy.” But, Ward writes, “in isolated pockets of our region, coal remains the big thing — the only thing, really.”

Massey Energy is the nation’s fourth-largest coal producer by revenue. It operates mines in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.

suewebb @
Tim Huber of The Associated Press contributed to this story.


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.