NASA's chief climate scientist James Hansen put it all on the line today to call attention to the devastation of mountaintop mining, getting arrested along with actress Daryl Hannah, Rainforest Action Network Director Mike Brune and 26 other activists in a protest at West Virginia's Coal River Valley.
The group had led a rally at the Marsh Fork Elementary School, in the shadow of a coal silo, then marched 300 yards to a mountaintop mining site run by coal giant Massey Energy.
"I am not a politician; I am a scientist and a citizen," Hansen said from the rally. "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. Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, should be abolished."
Marsh Fork Elementary has become infamous for its location: Its children play within 100 yards of one coal silo – soon to be two after a recent state Supreme Court ruling – and sit in classrooms downslope from a coal sludge impoundment holding up to 2.8 billions gallons of toxic liquid behind a dam. Massey's mountaintop mining site and its blasting are nearby, raising fears about the safety of the dam. If the dam broke, the school and its students would be directly in harm's way.
When Hansen and the other protesters headed for the mining site this afternoon, Massey had several of its coal miners and their families waiting, the Charleston Gazette reports. Twenty-nine protesters, including 94-year-old former U.S. Rep Ken Hechler (below), were book on misdemeanor charges of obstruction and impeding traffic, RAN spokeswoman Nell Greenberg said.
Hechler and other Appalachia advocates want an end to the practice of blowing the tops of mountains and stripping out the coal. Mining companies typically push the debris from blasting into the adjacent valleys, where the minerals contaminate streams and water supplies.
The Obama administration earlier this month promised closer oversight of mining practices but stopped short of ending mountaintop removal.
In an essay published yesterday, Hansen described the administration's response as "a sad political bargain that will never get us the change we need on mountaintop removal, coal or the climate."
"We must make clear to Congress, to the EPA, and to the Obama administration that we the people want mountaintop removal abolished and we want a move toward a rapid phase-out of coal emissions now," Hansen wrote.
"The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries is over. It is time for citizens to demand — yes, we can."
The issue of mountaintop mining will be in the news again on Thursday when a subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds Congress's first hearing on the issue in years. The subcommittee chairman, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md), is sponsoring legislation that would outlaw mountaintop mining to protect Appalachia's streams.
(Photos: Rainforest Action Network)