West Virginia Tree Sitters Halt Mountaintop Removal Blasting
PETTRY BOTTOM, West Virginia, August 28, 2009 (ENS) - Two tree sitters with the Climate Ground Zero campaign have forced coal giant Massey Energy to cancel blasts on a mountaintop removal mine above Pettry Bottom, a Coal River Valley town in Raleigh County.

Massey has not blasted on the ridge above Pettry Bottom since Tuesday when Laura Steepleton and Nick Stocks climbed onto their platforms 80 feet above the ground in two trees near the Edwight mine site, a spot Massey had scheduled for blasting.

Nick Stocks and Laura Steepleton on tree platforms near Massey's Edwight mine. (Photo by Charles courtesy Climate Ground Zero)

After dark fell last night, the tree sitters say Massey employees started flashing strobe-like lights at them and blasting air and truck horns and verbal harassment continued through the night.

But beginning their fourth day aloft, Steepleton and Stocks said this morning that they are safe and staying on their platforms to stop more mountaintop removal blasts.

The protesters say that they will not leave their treetop platforms until Massey Energy commits to ending blasting above Pettry Bottom and Peachtree.

They also want the company to pay the full healthcare and property repair costs for Pettry Bottom and Peachtree residents, and they are demanding that the Federal Office of Surface Mining commit to the full reclamation of the Edwight mine site.

The tree sitters say life on their tiny platforms for the past three days has been bearable.

"We are good," said Steepleton. "Security has been nice other than a few of them like to kick rocks off the berm. I have a chipmunk tree friend and there has been a momma bear and her two cubs."

On the ground, the tree-sitters' two-member support crew have been arrested and jailed.

On the tree sit's first day, Tuesday, a state trooper arrested Kim Ellis and Zoe Beavers cited them for trespassing and released them. Later that afternoon, the two women reentered the Edwight mine site at the request of state police to serve as a liaison to the tree sitters.

On Wednesday, mine security asked Ellis and Beavers to leave the area at about 5:30 pm. They refused and state police arrested them at 7:30 pm.

Beavers, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Turkey said, "I am on this mountain because I believe that every single West Virginian who is proud of being from 'Almost Heaven' should take a stand against mountaintop removal."

"I am here because DEP officials have failed to stop the blasting. I am putting my body and reputation on the line to do their job and stop the blasting," Beavers said. "I served in our military so that we can all live in a country that does not exploit and destroy its land and people."

Beavers is now an Americorps VISTA volunteer with the Student Environmental Action Coalition, a student-run organization working for environmental sustainability and social justice.

Beavers and Ellis spent the night in Southern Regional Jail and are still there awaiting bail.

Mountaintop removal operation in southern West Virginia, September 2008. (Photo courtesy NRDC)

Pettry Bottom, the site of this protest action, is just down the road from the town of Sundial, where 29 demonstrators, including government climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, actress Daryl Hannah, and 94 year-old former West Virginia Congressman Ken Hechler were arrested in June.

Those protesters deliberately entered Massey's Goals Coal plant to draw public attention to the destruction of mountains immediately above the Coal River Valley community of Sundial, where the Marsh Fork Elementary School is located. They say the company's blasting threatens the safety of students at the elementary school.

Climate Ground Zero is an ongoing campaign of non-violent civil disobedience in southern West Virginia to address mountaintop removal coal mining and its effects on our future.

The group says, "Our volunteers have put their bodies on the line to stop the over 3,000,000 pounds of explosives used every day to level West Virginia for coal."

So far this year, the group says on its website, more than 90 people have been arrested in a series of actions that have stopped the blasting, garnered national media attention and elicited harsh reactions from the coal industry.

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

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.