Climate Scientist James Hansen Arrested in Mountaintop Removal Protest

SUNDIAL, West Virginia, June 23, 2009 (ENS) – West Virginia State Police today arrested at least 29 demonstrators, including government climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, actress Daryl Hannah, and 94 year-old former West Virginia Congressman Ken Hechler, for tresspassing on the property of a mountaintop removal coal mining company to protest the destructive practice.

The protesters deliberately entered the Goals Coal plant owned by coal giant Massey Energy to draw public attention to the destruction of mountains immediately above the Coal River Valley community of Sundial in Raleigh County.

The demonstrators attempted to deliver a letter of demands to the company regarding this facility, which they say threatens the students at Marsh Fork Elementary School.

Dr. James Hansen is arrested at the gates of Massey’s Goals Coal plant. (Photo courtesy RAN)

“I am not a politician; I am a scientist and a citizen,” said Hansen, who is the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.

“Politicians may have to advocate for halfway measures if they choose. But it is our responsibility to make sure our representatives feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not what is politically expedient,” Hansen told a crowd of about 350 people gathered at Marsh Fork Elementary. “Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, should be abolished.”

Also arrested were Michael Brune, executive director of the nonprofit Rainforest Action Network; and Goldman Prize winner Judy Bonds, co-director of the nonprofit Coal River Mountain Watch, along with dozens of Coal River Valley residents and allies.

The protest was staged in advance of a Congressional hearing titled, The Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining on Water Quality in Appalachia, scheduled for Thursday before the Water and Wildlife subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Police arrest actress Daryl Hannah. (Photo courtesy RAN)

The action comes after the Obama administration’s announcement last week that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will reform, but not abolish, the strip mining practice that removes the tops of mountains to get at coal seams and then dumps the waste rock into valley streams below.

For 20 years, Dr. Hansen has been outspoken on issue of global warming and the dangers of fossil fuel combustion. He criticized the Bush administration for its suppport of fossil fuels, and now he is criticizing the Obama administration.

In the June 22 issue of Yale University’s “Environment 360″ magazine, Hansen wrote, “The Obama administration is being forced into a political compromise. It has sacrificed a strong position on mountaintop removal in order to ensure the support of coal-state legislators for a climate bill. The political pressures are very real. But this is an approach to coal that defeats the purpose of the administration’s larger efforts to fight climate change, a sad political bargain that will never get us the change we need on mountaintop removal, coal or the climate.”

Coal companies that engage in mountaintop removal mining are clear-cutting thousands of acres of some of the world’s most biologically diverse forests, the protesters said in a statement today. “They’re burying biologically crucial headwaters streams with blasting debris, releasing toxic levels of heavy metals into the remaining streams and groundwater and poisoning essential drinking water. According to the EPA, this destructive practice has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of forest by 2020.”

Former West Virginia Congressman Ken Hechler at Marsh Fork Elementary School (Photo courtesy RAN)

“Every day, mountaintop removal mines use more explosive power than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima,” said Bo Webb, an organizer of today’s protest and a Coal River Valley Resident. “West Virginians oppose mountaintop removal in our communities. This is not our traditional way of life, and we do not support the destruction of our land or our communities.”

“We are all complicit in mountaintop removal whenever we turn on our lights, so we are all responsible for ending it. Mountaintop removal, the world’s worst strip-mining, is unacceptable. Period.” said Brune. “This is not a practice that needs to be reformed. It is a practice that needs to be abolished.”

Mountaintop removal coal provides less than eight percent of all coal produced in the United States, and could be replaced with energy efficiency initiatives or renewable energy sources, the demonstrators say.

They point to recent studies showing that the mountains of Appalachia could support commercial scale wind energy facilities, which would bring long-term, sustainable jobs to the region, but only if the mountains are left standing.

“By sacrificing the Appalachian Mountains for the country’s coal addiction, we undermine future investments in 21st century clean energy solutions that will protect our planet, produce more jobs and preserve our natural resources,” Brune said.

Black water outfall beneath the Goals Coal Sludge Dam pollutes the Coal River. September 2007. (Photo by Matt Noerpel courtesy Coal River Mountain Watch)

Today’s demonstration is the latest in a string of mountaintop removal protests that saw four people enter Massey Energy’s mountaintop removal mine site near Twilight, West Virginia on June 18 to display a banner reading, “stop mountaintop removal mining.”

These demonstrators hung their banner from a 150-foot dragline machine – the first time a dragline has been scaled on a mountaintop removal site. The huge piece of equipment removes house-sized chunks of blasted rock and earth to expose coal.

The June 18 protest occurred three days after the Obama administration announced its plan to reform, but not abolish, mountaintop removal mining.

On May 23, more than 75 residents of the Coal River Valley and members of a coalition that includes Mountain Justice and Climate Ground Zero picketed the entrance to Massey Energy’s Marfork mining complex. Seven people were arrested. They were protesting the company’s plans to blast 100 feet away from the Brushy Fork coal sludge impoundment, which they fear could be breached, releasing the toxic waste.

“It’s way past time for civil disobedience to stop mountaintop removal and move quickly toward clean, renewable energy sources,” said Bonds, who was arrested today. “For over a century, Appalachian communities have been crushed, flooded, and poisoned as a result of the country’s dangerous and outdated reliance on coal. How could the country care so little about our American mountains, our culture and our lives?”

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