I, EmmaKate Martin and I, Benjamin Bryant, are blocking the road to Massey Energy’s regional headquarters in Boone County, West Virginia in order to spotlight and oppose Massey’s egregious safety, environmental and human rights violations. It is our responsibility to stand in firm opposition to Massey’s corporate behavior. We willingly face the legal consequences of our non-violent action, for we know we are not alone; millions in Appalachia and across the nation are coming to see Massey for what it is. Whether it is the mountains of Appalachia, the lives of underground miners deep inside them, or the wellbeing of communities living below, Massey continually prioritizes profits over people. It is time for the people of Appalachia and America – be you shareholder or worker, young or old – to reject Massey and work together to create something better in its place.
“Violations are, unfortunately, a normal part of the mining process,” Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey, has stated. In 2008, Massey made a $20 million settlement with the EPA for 4,500 Clean Water Act violations filed between 2000 and 2006. Now, in 2010, they are back in court for polluting America’s waterways again; this time for 971 Clean Water Act violations in 2008 and 2009. A 2006 fire at Massey’s Aracoma mine killed two workers – two men. Massey settled wrongful death lawsuits for an undisclosed sum and paid civil and criminal penalties of $4.2 million. It is clear that neither MSHA, EPA, criminal, nor civil fines, can sufficiently motivate Massey, or Blankenship, to adopt a culture of responsibility in their business practices.
When it comes to mountaintop removal and coal sludge, there is no responsible course but to ban them entirely. Mountaintop removal is the practice of demolishing Appalachian peaks, in order to scrape out their coal seams. It fills neighboring valleys and streams with the resultant rubble, and damages the health of nearby communities. Coal sludge is the liquid byproduct of washing coal in a carcinogenic chemical bath to remove impurities, such as heavy metals including arsenic, mercury, lead, and others. We call for the abolition of both.
The Brushy Fork Coal Sludge Impoundment is the tallest earthen dam in the Western Hemisphere, permitted to hold 9 billion gallons of sludge. Massey’s “sunny day” casualty estimation is that if the dam were to break, the flood would kill 998 Coal River Valley residents.
Coal sludge impoundments have failed in the past. A Massey-operated sludge impoundment in Martin County, KY broke in 2000, spilling 306 million gallons of toxic sludge into the tributaries of the Tug Fork, Big Sandy, and Ohio Rivers, killing wildlife, and contaminating 27,000 people’s drinking water. Brushy Fork sits above a honeycomb of abandoned underground room and pillar mines in which 31 pillars are of insufficient strength to reliably support the mine roof, let alone the mass of 9 billion gallons of sludge. Brushy Fork could also break through bottom failure, causing sludge to gush from abandoned mine entrances into the surrounding, populated valleys.
The peril of Brushy Fork is compounded by Massey’s mountaintop removal operations on the Bee Tree Permit, which surrounds the impoundment. Each day, Massey blasts within hundreds of yards of the impoundment. Every mine blast sends high and low frequency vibrations into the mountain. High frequency vibrations are the visible blast, launching fly rock and dust, and dissipate over a short distance. Low frequency vibrations, however, cause structural damages, often foundation cracks, miles from the blast site. Brushy Fork’s earthen dam structure is within hundreds of yards of blasting operations. Thousands of lives are at risk.
Massey must be stopped—that is why we are putting our bodies on the line today.
Shareholders – you have the power to intervene. Use your institutional power to demand Massey cease its mountaintop removal operations and production of coal slurry. Responsibly decommission the Brushy Fork Impoundment. Also, we ask that you join with the coalition of nine public institutional investors that are asking Massey to withhold support from Don Blankenship and Board of Directors Baxter F. Philips, Richard M. Gabrys, and Dan R. Moore “because they have failed to carry out their duties on the Safety, Environmental, and Public Policy Committee.”
Americans – coal from the mountains of Appalachia is burned all over the United States. It heats our homes, powers our factories, and illuminates our schools and offices. It is sometimes difficult connect one’s energy consumption to a struggle hundreds of miles away, but we urge you to take responsibility for that power and stand in solidarity with the people of Appalachia. We know that not everyone is able to risk arrest for this cause, but we firmly believe that all Americans can–and must– stand up and say: Massey Energy, Stop Putting Profits Before People & Mountains!
EmmaKate Martin & Ben Bryant
Climate Ground Zero