Thousands Call for End to Mountaintop Removal at Appalachia Rising

Sep 28, 2010 – An estimated couple of thousand people rallied in Washington, DC on Monday to call for an end to the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.  About 100 protesters were arrested for an act of civil disobedience outside the White House, after refusing to obey an order not to cross a police line.  Monday’s event, titled Appalachia Rising, marks the largest demonstration against mountaintop removal mining so far in the United States.

Mountaintop removal mining, a method for coal extraction used mainly in the Appalachian Mountains, involves clear-cutting forested mountains and blasting away the mountaintops to expose underground coal seems.  In the last year the US Environmental Protection Agency has taken at least some steps to curb the practice and make mountaintop removal mining permits more difficult for companies to obtain.  However environmental groups and many residents of Appalachia charge the practice must be discontinued altogether, and that the EPA has failed to do its job of protecting Appalachia’s environment. 

On Monday morning hundreds of activists began the day with a rally in Washington, DC’s Freedom Plaza.  Speakers from Appalachian communities affected by mountaintop removal mining described how pollution from mining sites has polluted their air and water and damaged the quality of life in mountain towns.  Most mountaintop removal operations end up dumping rubble and debris into nearby streams and valleys, contaminating water with heavy metals and chemicals used for coal mining. 

Matt Dernoga, a graduate student at the University of Maryland who attended the rally, described the impact speakers had on the audience.  “Coalfield residents…spoke from the heart,” says Dernoga, “in a way that conveyed how dire the situation was to those like myself who are fortunate enough to have clean water and relatively clean air.”

Protesters next marched to EPA headquarters to express their frustration with the agency, and then on to the local branch of PNC Bank—one of the main financial institutions that provides funding for mountaintop removal mining.  That morning, in an act of civil disobedience that did not result in any arrests, thirteen activists held a sit-in inside the US Department of the Interior building to urge Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to work with the Office of Surface Mining to end mountaintop removal. 

Appalachia Rising culminated with a large rally outside the White House, during which about 100 protesters were eventually arrested.  One of the individuals arrested was climate scientist Dr. James Hansen of NASA, who has been among the most outspoken scientific advocates for ending the burning of coal that contributes to global warming. 

The decision to target the White House reflects growing frustration from environmental activists who hoped President Barack Obama would put an end to the practice of mountaintop removal much more quickly than has been the case.  “I have no doubt that those in power and big coal took notice of this day,” said Dernoga.  “I encourage everyone to step up their efforts to win this.”

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