Forty four people risked arrest today on Kayford Mountain by trespassing on a Patriot Coal Company “reclamation” site to plant trees. The activists and concerned citizens took reclamation into their own hands. “The coal companies sure as hell aren’t going to do anything about it – someone’s got to,” said Junior Walk, 20, of the Coal River Valley. Once all the trees were planted and the activists were not under arrest, they walked back off with their shovels.
The standard reclamation practiced by mining companies is inadequate, which involves regrading high walls into gentle, highly-compacted slopes and seeding the rocky soil with grass. Some companies plant trees but rarely return to tend them–most trees don’t survive long. The extremely diverse mixed mesophytic forests of Central Appalachia, which rely upon folded land that creates lots of micro-climates, cannot regrow on reclaimed surface mines. Native plants like ginseng require the steep north-facing slopes of Appalachia that retain moisture, and will never grow on the gentle slopes of a reclaimed strip mine.
The coal industry defends mountaintop removal by touting the flat land of reclaimed mine sites as prime for development. In Kentucky, since 1999, development was planned for less than 3 percent of the roughly half-million acres of land covered by surface-mining permits.
The day began with a rally in Stanley Heir’s Park, a small island of green surrounded by 12,000 acres of land demolished by mountaintop removal, much of which has been so called “reclaimed” by Patriot Coal.
The rally and action comes on the heels of the EPA’s recommendation to veto the Spruce No. 1 mine’s permit and Appalachia Rising, the largest national gathering of people in opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining to date. Appalachia Rising culminated with a march to the White House of over 2,000 people and 118 arrests for non-violent civil disobedience at the White House, PNC Bank, Department of Interior, and Army Corps of Engineers.
Ken Hechler, 96, a long serving West Virginia statesman said at the rally, “I may be 96 but there’s a fire in my belly. I’m here to help save these beautiful mountains of West Virginia and put people back to work doing useful things.” Ken Hechler has been a vocal opponent of mountaintop removal since the early 1970’s.