THE LAST MOUNTAIN: one community's fight against mountaintop removal

When did you first hear the term “fracking,” the shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, a decades-old natural gas extraction technique that’s come under scrutiny from both activists and governments alike? It was probably around the time of the release of Josh Fox’s GASLAND (which won a Special Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival). No doubt that director Bill Haney and the producers of THE LAST MOUNTAIN (an official selection at Sundance this year) hope their activist documentary will bring similar attention to the practice of mountaintop removal by coal mining companies… another extraction method that’s been in use for years, and received a ton of attention within environmental and activist circles, but that hasn’t hit a tipping point in terms of general awareness of the damage it does to Appalachian communities in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky (as well as watersheds that feed huge portions of the Eastern US).

The direct damage to mountain ecosystems might be enough to anger some people, but, as the film points out, mountaintop removal creates real threats for the residents of surrounding towns and villages. Shifts in waterways filled with debris create flooding in areas that had previously been safe from rising water… and, whether rising or not, the water itself is now filled with toxins. Instances of health problems ranging from respiratory ailments to cancer have plagued these communities… most of which have long-standing ties to the mining industry.

While Robert Kennedy, Jr. figures prominently in the film (a fact that one critic cites as a weakness), THE LAST MOUNTAIN is really about the people of the Coal River Basin, and their fight to protect Coal River Mountain from destruction. Ordinary citizens and even former mine employees and contractors become activists in order to protect their families, neighbors, and the land they’ve inhabited for generations.

The film’s slowly being rolled out across the United States, and appearing at numerous film festivals and other events. Seen it yet? If you have (or once you have), come back and let us know what you think.