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"How Do We Build A Mass Movement to Reverse Runaway Inequality?" with Les Leopold, author of "Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice,"May 22, 2016, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York, 860 11th Ave. (Between 58th and 59th), New York City. Between The Lines' Scott Harris and Richard Hill moderated this workshop. Listen to the audio/slideshows and more from this workshop.
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"For Natives, a "Day of Mourning"by Reginald Johnson, November 23, 2016
"A Bitter Harvest" by Reginald Johnson, Nov. 15, 2016
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Posted April 4, 2012
Interview with Chuck Nelson, anti-MTR activist and chairman of the board of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
In January 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency revoked the Clean Water Act permit for the Spruce No. 1 coal mine, the largest mountaintop removal site in West Virginia. Mountaintop removal coal mining is the process of blowing up mountain tops to access the coal seams underneath, and dumping the rocks and earth into valleys below. Citing major environmental damage if the project proceeded, including the burial of miles of mountain streams, this was the first time the EPA had rescinded an already-granted permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
On March 23, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the EPA had exceeded its authority in rescinding the permit. The project is still in limbo because there's a related case working its way through the West Virginia court system. The Obama administration has 60 days to appeal the federal judges’ ruling.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Chuck Nelson, a retired underground miner, anti-MTR activist and current chair of the board of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. He talks about the current state of work atop the mountain and the threats he says the Spruce mine poses not only to the environment, but to human health and to nearby Blair Mountain, the historic site of a battle between miners, police and the U.S. Army in 1921.
CHUCK NELSON: They did a lot of clear-cutting. They hadn't started any blasting or anything like that. The land butts up to a historical park that we want to preserve – Blair Mountain – where a battle happened there in 1921 when 10,000 miners marched into Logan County in order to get better benefits and living conditions for the miners back then, to unionize, because it was all non-union. We want to preserve that because it was a significant battle in our history. I mean, it was the largest insurgent military since the Civil War. They even brought planes out and dropped bombs on American citizens – them being the miners. So it's a big historical area that we would like to preserve, and it's right next to...if Spruce would get the permit and go ahead with the mining, it would wipe out the whole battlefield.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What's different about this mountaintop removal (MTR) site – the permit that was granted by the Army Corps of Engineers and then the EPA vetoed it based on the Clean Water Act. Isn't the situation basically the same for all MTR sites that have not had their permits revoked?
CHUCK NELSON: Yes, a lot of them are similar to it, but this would have been the biggest MTR site in the state, and it would have buried approximately 30 to 40 miles of streams. That's when they started looking at it that it's causing significant damage to the ecosystem and the waterways, you know, burying that amount of streams. So the ruling that the EPA made was based on that, but there's been a lot happened since then that would give them more support for their decision, and that is the health impacts. There's been 21 peer-reviewed health studies since the process of going through the veto, and even now there's still studies going on showing how detrimental it is to human life and not only the ecosystem, and people that live around these MTR sites.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Chuck Nelson, say a little more about that. Wasn't one showing impacts specifically on pregnant women?
CHUCK NELSON: Yeah, specifically on birth defects of women, that the rate was plumb off the charts compared to other places throughout the nation that women were having birth defects that lived in and around MTR sites.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Their babies, you mean; their babies were born with birth defects.
CHUCK NELSON: Right, because you're all the time breathing ammonium nitrate, the explosive they use, the diesel fuel, the silica dust that comes from the rock when they blow it up. This all settles right down on the community, in the waterways, and it's causing a lot of people to die, I'll just be honest with you.
BETWEEN THE LINES: The EPA was overruled by a federal judge. Do you want to see the Obama administration appeal the ruling?
CHUCK NELSON: I'd love to see them appeal the decision. We haven't heard anything else from the administration as of yet. We have petitions; we wrote to the Obama administration; and we talk to the EPA on a regular basis giving them our support on what decisions they do make. I just don't think President Obama would allow this size of surface mine to go in to southern West Virginia with the impact that he knows MTR causes. But we still have court cases pending that reflect back on that permit, that we'll be appealing those too. Just because they found a corporate judge to rule in their favor don't mean that they're gonna get this permit. They cannot override the EPA's veto because the EPA has that power to veto these permits. It's just that in the past, EPA was irrelevant under the Bush administration, and now that the Obama administration has come in and told EPA they're gonna start doing their job, they have the power to do that. This judge don't understand the consequences of the health studies and what's going to happen to people if this mine is allowed to move forward.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Obama lost West Virginia in the 2008 election. More West Virginians oppose mountaintop removal than support it, so do you think his appealing this would play well for him? I know almost all the state's politicians, including former Gov. Joe Manchin, who's now a U.S. senator, are in favor of mining everything.
Find information about the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition at www.ohvec.org .
CHUCK NELSON: Well, the numbers speak for themselves; more people oppose MTR than are for it. The only ones you find for it are the people who work for the industry and the industry themselves. I feel if he came out and used his administrative authority and stop this permit, it would be a plus for him, as far as votes in West Virginia.