On the 18th of August, exhausted from holding a 30 day long treesit that shut down blasting on Coal River Mountain for month in all kinds of weather, Catherine Ann descended from the tree and was arrested. She was released later that day and is heading home-for now. This is the second time the Bee Tree mountaintop removal coal mine has been shut down for a protracted period by protesters-and is unlikely to be the last time.
That makes the mine a questionable investment for the bankers and other investors in Alpha Natural resources, the company that bought out Massey, the mine’s former owner.
Alpha has tried to come across through all this as a “kinder, gentler mountaintop removal” by such things as not blasting Catherine-An with noise like Massey did in Jan-Feb 2010.That earlier treesit was forced down by the Great blizzard of 2010. Some say Alpha is in the position of having to clean up Massey’s messes, meaning that if the Bee Tree mine can be made a big enough mess, Alpha could be forced to shut it down for image reasons!
Coming Down from the Trees
I have spent one month living, sleeping, pondering, eating, reading, singing and dreaming among the four sturdy trunks of this oak tree. The reality of limited resources now necessitates my descent but because Alpha is still blowing apart more of this mountain every day, this is not the last they will see of us. I plan to remain here and fight for this mountain for years to come.
It would be impossible for me to relate here my myriad and overwhelming motivations for sneaking into and occupying a tree beside an active strip mine, an act which some people probably recognize as extreme. But what I find extreme in the very worst sense of the word is that strip mining has devastated or demolished more than 500 of these ancient, beautiful mountains; that coal companies have stripped more than 1.2 million acres for coal, which is 10 percent of the Central Appalachian Bioregion; and that valley fills have interred more than 500 miles of WV streams.
I am a lover of peace, but where injustice is present peace is a crime. It is like the dreaded still after blasting sirens and before a blast, a morbid complicity saturated with fear and shame. The tree I sit in is not far from what used to be Marfork Hollow, a community that Massey Energy annihilated by evicting those who didn’t own the land they lived on and encroaching up on the land of those who did until they fled from the blasting and the dust. The last to leave Marfork Hollow was Judy Bonds, a great hero in this movement. The story of this hollow does not represent an isolated case of exile, but one example of a pervasive strategy of depopulation that many coal companies employ throughout Appalachia and any place that mine-able coal exists. The product of mountaintop removal mining is extinction—extinction of mountains, communities, species and a way of life. How could we in response demand only amelioration, mitigation, or anything less than abolition?
As I clambered over the slick stones of perennial or intermittent streams to get to my tree, startling a slew of salamanders of several different species, I remembered why I had been willing to put so much weight on my back. I have felt the horror of strip mining’s assault on species’ diversity for many years, and in response I have written letters, tried to educate others, lobbied and volunteered. Yet throughout all of these things, I have felt the frustration of being up against the outrageous power of the coal industry. We do not live within a democracy but within a plutocracy—a government increasingly controlled by economic interests, by state and multi-national corporations. And this sense of legal futility is what has made it especially healing for me to be able to use my body to physically impede Alpha’s operations.Of course, while I wanted to directly oppose Alpha’s destruction of Coal River Mountain with this tree sit, I also hoped to send a message to as many people as I could. I want the knowledge of this sit to galvanize people who have become accustomed to hearing that everything we consume hurts another person, or the Earth, or ourselves, and who’ve become complacent from their resulting sense of powerlessness. We do not need to allow such prices to be paid, but instead can boldly challenge the system that exchanges life for goods and money. In order to utter this challenge in a society shaped by greed, we will need to remember that an act is not right because it is expected, legal or even honorable, an act is not wrong because it is devious, illegal or even shamed.
Finally, I want to plead that we remember to fight universally for justice. When women were excluded from the World Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840, they sat outside and William Lloyd Garrison sat with them. We need to always stand with one another, always recognizing that equality for some is nonsensical. We are all morally conscripted in every war for justice and it is a true shame for us to desert any.
Here is the statement released by RAMPS as Catherine-Ann descended:
RAMPS Campaign Vows to Continue Fighting to Save the Mountain
Marfork, W.Va.–Catherine-Ann MacDougal is descending her oak tree on Coal River Mountain that she has lived in for the past month in protest of strip mining, and police have been notified. MacDougal, an activist with the RAMPS Campaign, had been in the oak tree on Alpha Natural Resources’ Bee Tree permit since July 20; until August 2, she had been joined by fellow RAMPS activist Becks Kolins. Their tree-sit, the longest in West Virginia history, effectively halted blasting on the Bee Tree hollow portion of the site, aside from a small blast released on the third day of the tree-sit.
“The reality of limited resources now necessitates my descent but this is not the last they will see of us. I plan to remain here and fight for this mountain for years to come,” said MacDougal.
The Bee Tree permit is the largest active strip mining permit on Coal River Mountain and is currently up for renewal. At a public hearing held last week by the W.Va. Department of Environmental Protection, about fifty residents showed up to ask questions and submit comments. Many discussed their concern over the health impacts of mountaintop removal, blasting near the Brushy Fork Impoundment, and the destruction of the mountains where they and their families had traditionally hunted, fished, and gathered wild plants.
MacDougal explains that the apparent ineffectiveness of other strategies for citizens to have their concerns with strip mining taken seriously motivated her to take direct action: “I have written letters, tried to educate others, lobbied and volunteered. Yet throughout all of these things, I have felt the frustration of being up against the outrageous power of the coal industry. We do not live within a democracy but within a plutocracy—a government increasingly controlled by economic interests, by state and multi-national corporations.” Indeed, the results of a poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research & Consulting and released earlier this week found that West Virginians actually oppose mountaintop removal mining by a margin of 45:31. ¹
The Coal River Watershed has been decimated by strip mining and mountaintop removal. Nearly a quarter of total land area in the watershed is being mined or permitted to be mined in the future, including over 5,000 acres of Coal River Mountain. Across Central Appalachia, more than 1.2 million acres have been stripped for coal. Recent studies have documented connections between strip mining and a range of health impacts, including birth defects and cancer. ²
Some local residents have expressed strong support for the tree-sit. “I commend Catherine-Ann for her strength and determination to stay in that tree for a month to halt blasting around the Brushy Fork Impoundment,” said Debbie Jarrell, a lifelong resident of Rock Creek, W.Va. “It’s the youth of today that will stop the short-sightedness of mountaintop removal that my generation has allowed.”