Sunday, October 29, 2000

Protesters hold 'funeral for the mountains'

By Jennifer Bundy
The Associated Press

        CHARLESTON, W.Va. — About 200 environmentalists clad in black and carrying replicas of coffins, dead fish and mountains marched in Charleston Saturday, rallying at the Capitol for a “funeral for the mountains.”

        The event, organized to draw attention to mountaintop removal coal mining and the Oct. 11 release of coal sludge along the Kentucky-West Virginia border, was sponsored by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

        The protest was intended to “give people an opportunity to mourn what we have lost” to mountaintop removal mining, said Vivian Stockman, an organizer dressed in a long black gown, black hat and veil.

        Some carried signs with, among other messages, “Here come de sludge.” One foam tombstone was inscribed, “Here lies W.V. water quality, killed by politics as usual.”

        The rally was staged on the Capitol steps just outside the office of Gov. Cecil Underwood. On a nearby lawn were dozens of cardboard tombstones — mainstays at rallies protesting mountaintop removal — in memory of streams buried by rock and fill dumped by

        mountaintop removal mining.

        The event was planned months before the bottom dropped out of a mountaintop coal-sludge pond in Martin County, Ky., releasing 250 million gallons of black goo that has killed fish and fouled drinking water along 60 miles of the Kentucky-West Virginia border.

        “The sludge spill underscores the loss,” Ms. Stockman said.

        State and federal agencies and Martin County Coal, a subsidiary of A.T. Massey Coal Co. that owns the sludge pond, are paying for the cleanup.

        “One state senator told me one time, "It's all about money, ladies,'” Ms. Stockman said. “No one knows how much that will cost.”

        Patty Wallace of Louisa, Ky., said her municipal water supply was shut off because of the sludge. She says she uses her own well.

        The sludge release “proves you can't take wealth from the land and insert waste into the environment.”

        “This is destroying wildlife,” she said.

        Others spoke on behalf of trees, birds, animals, streams and communities destroyed by mountaintop removal mining.

        Secretary of State Ken Hechler, a longtime opponent of mountaintop removal mining, read a poem he wrote, a takeoff of a poem by Joyce Kilmer: “I think that I shall never see a dragline lovely as a tree. ... The trees we honor at this wake can't be replaced, make no mistake. Mountaintop removal, don't you see, it's just murder in the first degree. Bigger profits are their goal, but here's my message to Arch Coal: Draglines are made for fools like thee but only God can make a tree.”

        Mr. Hechler, who is leaving office in January, was the only elected official to address the rally.

        Ms. Stockman said organizers did not want to jeopardize the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition's tax-exempt status by appearing to endorse candidates.

        Protesters in the funeral parade were joined by independent gubernatorial candidate Denise Giardina and Joe Whelan, the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate.


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