Mining activists speak on mountaintop removal
Coal River Mountain Watch activists Judy Bonds and Patty Sebok spoke on mountaintop removal coal mining and the effects of modern coal practices at an area home last Saturday.
They talked with The Morgan Messenger before their Power Point presentation and appealed for people to get involved.
The devastation from mountaintop removal mining is killing and sickening wildlife, contributing to global warming and endangering their homes, communities and way of life, they said.
Nothing grows there
Nothing grows there, except scrub brush, non-native grasses and a few pines, said Sebok of the ravaged mountaintop sites. There's nothing for wildlife to eat, she said. Sebok is from Boone County and is the wife of a disabled coal miner.
Bonds, a Coal River Valley resident and a daughter and granddaughter of coal miners, said she's had many bear fights because the bears are coming to their homes looking for food. The bears are scrawny and sick, said Sebok. Bonds said that the coal company is blowing up the bears while they are hibernating in their caves.
"People can't believe they're doing this in America," said Bonds.
Some have asked them if they have endangered animals in southern West Virginia.
"We have endangered hillbillies," said Sebok.
"You can't have hillbillies without hills. You can't have mountaineers without mountains," said Bonds.
Estimated wasteland would cross the country
They've estimated that lining up all the mountaintop removal devastation in West Virginia would create a mile-long swath that stretched from New York to San Francisco, said Bonds.
Sometimes they don't even use the timber from the mountaintop removal sites. They just burn it, said Sebok.
"It's such a waste," she said.
Where they've normally gotten hardwoods from is gone, said Bonds. Bonds was concerned that scenic places in West Virginia were at risk for timbering.
Coal is a major source of carbon dioxide in the air, said Bonds. She noted that the Appalachian forest is "the lungs of the East." We're burning coal for cheap electricity and destroying the forest that would help clean the carbon dioxide from the air by mountaintop removal, she said. Both are factors in global warming.
Judy Bonds is the co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch and has been fighting for justice on coal issues in the Coal River Valley since 1998. In 2003, Bonds won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for North America. The award is considered the equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize for environmentalists.
Coal dust, fish kills, black water, non-stop truck traffic and helicopters drove Bonds to stand up for her family and ultimately the environment.
Bonds got involved when she saw her grandson standing in the polluted stream next to their house that was filled with dead fish and white slime. Her family swam and bathed in that stream for six generations, she said.
Bonds' brother, ex-husband, cousins and nephews are also coal miners. Bonds said that she and Sebok have had a first-hand look at the effects of the coal industry.
"We can speak to these issues," said Bonds.
Truck Safety Act
Patty Sebok was a stay-at-home mom who turned activist when overloaded coal trucks became a danger on her community's roads. In 1989, she joined with 500 concerned citizens to blockade a road in her community that coal trucks frequently drove unsafely. Sebok was arrested during the protest.
Conditions improved until 2000 when overweight coal trucks began speeding around bends in and near Sebok's community, causing fatal accidents. Some 18-wheeler tractor-trailers had bald tires with wires sticking out or had been seen with their brakes on fire, said Sebok. Trucks were driving over 60 miles an hour in 35-mile an hour speed limit zones on narrow, windy roads.
Sebok began lobbying with others for stricter laws and enforcement of weight and speed limits for coal trucks. Truckers tried to intimidate Sebok and her family. Threats were made against her life, she said. A Truck Safety Act was passed in 2003.
Bonds would like to see people get more involved in their children's futures. She would also like to see coal companies stop poisoning their water and destroying the land.
"They're using 3 million pounds of explosives a day in southern West Virginia. Stop bombing us," said Bonds of mountaintop removal mining.
Sebok wants to see more conservation and renewable energy. She'd love more people to get politically active to put our country back on track. Sebok felt the only way that change would happen is for people to tell politicians what they want and what they don't want.
"If we wait till everything's gone and polluted, we're sunk. It's not just us, it's a world-wide problem," said Sebok of global warming.
Hope for the future
Many young people are getting involved in environmental issues like mountaintop removal, clean energy and global warming, said Bonds. Some 500 colleges across America participated in a clean energy day, each choosing an action to drive the point home, she said.
College students are converging in Kanawha County during Mountain Justice Spring Break for workshops to bring positive change to their futures, said Bonds. There's a political movement on college campuses that hasn't been seen since the 1960s, she said.