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An Open Letter to Al Gore: Speak Now Against the Rape of Coal River Mountain


posted on Huffington Post/Grist, November 25, 2008 

Dear Al Gore,

Two months ago at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, you declared that, "If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration."

In truth, we can't wait for the construction of a new coal plant to keep our promise to the future. The future of this planet is now -- in West Virginia.

There is an urgent crime taking place before our eyes: As you have declared in public, that crime is mountaintop removal. Today, at the same time President-elect Barack Obama announced a forthcoming economic recovery package and clean energy job programs, an outrageous act of mountaintop removal was sanctioned by the state of West Virginia. It will not only destroy a mountain, it will destroy one of the most acclaimed proposals for wind energy and permanent clean energy jobs in Appalachia.

Mr. Gore, the time has come for you to make a urgent trip to Coal River Mountain in West Virginia to witness and speak out against a scandalous act of regulatory neglect and crimes against nature and our fellow American citizens.

Here are the bona fides: Dismissing an overwhelming majority of West Virginians who support clean energy and jobs initiatives, Gov. Joe Manchin and state government officials have granted the Massey Energy coal company a Bee Tree surface mining permit revision for one part of their proposed mine on Coal River Mountain.

According to local residents and legal experts, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has circumvented the intent of the law by excluding the public from the permit process. Residents, in fact, discovered that the original application for the permit revision had significant issues with valley fills and in-stream sediment ponds. Nonetheless, the DEP rejected any public discussion.

Massey Energy now has permission to begin blasting the first proposed area of the Coal River Mountain.

The Coal River Valley has been inhabited for over 10,000 years. Since 1783, many of its residents settled on land grants for Revolutionary War veterans who fought and bled for the cause of independence, and built the West Virginian foundations of our country.

In the face of this massive mountaintop removal plan, drawing on the ingenuity of their community and national energy experts, local residents in the Coal River Mountain area have drawn up a Coal River Wind Project to create jobs, generate energy, and preserve the mountains and mountaineer heritage. Awarded Co-Op America's national award for "Building Economic Alternatives" in 2008, the Coal River Wind Project would place West Virginia in the forefront of the clean energy revolution in the United States.

Extensive research has shown that Coal River Mountain has enough wind potential to provide permanent electricity for between 100,000 and 150,000 homes, while creating 50 well-paying, permanent jobs in an area long beholden to temporary coal mining jobs. According to Rory McIlmoil of the Coal River Mountain Watch, "The wind farm would also generate as over ten times more county revenue than the mountaintop removal operations would, and in a county with a poverty rate of 18.5%, this additional income would help to stimulate new economic development projects and the creation of new and lasting jobs for the county."

The blasting of Coal River Mountain will not only strip the range of its resources, its tributaries and forests, its history and meaning; it will rob West Virginians of the possibility of creating long-lasting jobs and clean energy. Governor Joe Manchin has it within his power to issue a stay of execution of the Bee Tree Branch area, and all of Coal River Mountain, by rescinding and rejecting the remaining permits; and to call for a thorough investigation of the necessary questions regarding the Bee Tree Branch and valley fills, sediment ponds, the maintenance of sediment ditches, and the impact on the Brushy Fork Impoundment; and to set up a commission to study the Coal River Wind Project and its implications for the state's energy plan.

Unlike his fellow Governor Brian Schweitzer in Montana, however, Governor Manchin still needs help from you, and other politicians and energy experts, in embracing the exciting reality of the coming green economy. Over a half century ago, your fellow Southern writer William Faulkner confronted Southerners who quietly allowed the South to "wreck and ruin itself in less than a hundred years." He begged his fellow Southerners to "speak now against the day, when our Southern people who will resist to the last these inevitable changes in social relations, will, when they have been forced to accept what they at one time might have accepted with dignity and goodwill, will say: 'Why didn't someone tell us this before? Tell us this in time?'"

Mr. Gore, it is time for you to make a public visit to Coal River Valley, to see firsthand its great mountain and long history, to see a community endeavor for preservation and clean energy, and to speak now against the day of mountaintop removal in Appalachia.