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Pettus, W. Va.–This Monday, January 25, W.Va. Governor Joe Manchin held a summit with several opponents of mountaintop removal, including well-known local activists Judy Bonds and Maria Gunnoe, and Dr. Michael Hendryx, a researcher whose studies have concluded that the health costs of coal are greater than the profit it brings in. After the meeting, Manchin, a coal supporter, stated, “We will not in any way, shape or form in this state of West Virginia tolerate any violence against anyone on any side. If you’re going to have the dialogue, have respect for each other.”
Meanwhile on Coal River Mountain, Eric Blevins, 28, and Amber Nitchman, 19, continue to peacefully occupy trees on Massey Energy’s Bee Tree strip mine to halt Massey’s blasting near a sludge dam that endangers the community. While the tree sitters conduct this non-violent protest of mountaintop removal, they face constant harassment from Massey Security. The security personnel have been blasting five airhorns just below the sitters’ platforms to force the sitters to descend. At one point, security personnel tied a rope to a thinner tree next to the one occupied by Nitchman, and repeatedly pulled and released the rope so that it would hit the bottom of Nitchman’s platform. Discussion of spraying the sitters with firehoses has been heard over two-way radios. The police have been shown the appropriate West Virginia legal statute, §61-3E-10, have acknowledged the felony endangerment,and have declined to take any action. Prosecutors and Manchins’ office have also refused to act after being notified of the situation and the laws that Massey is breaking.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people called Governor Manchin’s office and asked that he put an end to Massey’s abuses. Thus far, he has not responded. Many are infuriated by the discrepancy between Manchin’s promises and the violence that Massey continues to perpetuate. “On January 25, Governor Manchin promised all of West Virginia that violence will not be tolerated,” local activist Judy Bonds said. “On January 26th, I and others called the Governor to ask that he step up to the plate to stop the abuse and violence to two peaceful tree sitters, but the Governor has not kept his promise.”
“The abuse continues as soon as the police leave, which sends a strong message to all abusers that it’s okay as long as you don’t get caught,” said Vernon Haltom of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Governor Manchin’s inaction speaks far louder than his promises. If he hopes to restore citizens’ faith that he meant what he said, he needs to take strong action to stop the violence now.”