Friday, June 04, 2010

Massey beleaguered not just by mine-disaster fallout, but by anti-mountaintop-removal protests

Massey Energy has faced much public scrutiny following the April explosion that killed 29 West Virginia coal miners, but the ongoing battle between the company and environmental activists over mountaintop-removal strip mining has garnered little attention outside of Appalachia. In the past 16 months, the environmental group "Climate Ground Zero has performed 21 acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, including shackling themselves to towering draglines and bulldozers, canoeing across a toxic waste impoundment, and occupying a Massey subsidiary's office for 10 days," Peter Slavin of the Los Angeles Times reports. Massey has pursued court injunctions and financial damages against the group it calls "criminals" and "environmental terrorists."

"Activists say they are breaking the law to halt mining damage so grave it amounts to a crime," Slavin writes. "Mountaintop removal has left valleys and rivers clogged with debris, wells ruined and nearby homes uninhabitable." Over 100 members of Climate Ground Zero have been arrested with more than 30 being arrested at least twice, and 45 have spent some time in jail, Slavin reports. In the early months of the protest fines were usually $100 or less, but now members are arrested with bail set at thousands of dollars.

Until recently jail sentences were rare and no longer than 21 days, but "on April 22, Jacqueline Quimby, 27, of New Orleans, was sentenced to 60 days after a jury found her guilty of trespassing, conspiracy and obstruction ... for helping block a coal-haul road," Slavin writes. Group members live openly in the community, but have faced some local backlash. In a recent letter to the editor in the Beckley Register-Herald, one man wrote the activists were "living off of some government check" and said "coal miners work hard to pay the taxes that they are living off." In another letter, a woman wrote coal was "our history, and we as true West Virginians should be very proud of it. If these so-called concerned citizens don't like it, get out." (Read more)

Massey's board recently hired the politically connected public-relations firm Public Strategies "to advise it on how to respond to questions about the company’s governance and the board’s general oversight of the company," Stephen Power reports for The Wall Street Journal. The firm is based in Austin, Texas and includes "Dan Bartlett, a former White House counselor to then-President George W. Bush; Mark McKinnon, a media consultant who worked on Mr. Bush’s presidential campaigns on debates; and Jeff Eller, a former White House aide to then-President Bill Clinton." (Read more)


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