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In the Face of King Coal, Tree Sitters Triumph

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As the Obama Administration continues to glorify the use of "clean" coal to solve America's energy problems, a movement of Americans in Appalachia consistently is engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience against coal interests in West Virginia, which support a destructive form of mining known as mountaintop removal (MTR) that involves blowing the tops off of mountains to get to the coal.

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Mountain Justice and Climate Ground Zero, groups withindividuals who regularly put their bodies on the line to stop the use of explosives on mountains,recently concluded a major "tree sit" that lasted nine days. A recent drop in temperature was responsible for the activists' decision.

Tree-sitters were immediately arrested by West Virginia State Troopers when they left the trees, but that was no problem. Over the course of nine days the tree sitters received national media attention, forced the West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to meet with activists, and clogged the phone system at Massey Energy and the governor's office with call-in days.

The tree-sitters occupied trees on Coal River Mountain to halt the blasting of it.

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Richard Bradford explained, "Coal River Mountain [is] the last mountain around here that hasn't been touched and they [could be] using it for windmills"But Massey wants to get that coal. It seems like they just don't care about the populace. Just the land and their checkbook."

There's nothing clean about coal and nor will there really ever be. "Clean" coal is a devious political buzz phrase that the people of this country need to consistently cut through.

"Clean" coal consistently presents the American people with tremendous costs and injustices. It increases the rates of disease. The American Lung Association has found that 24,000 people each year die prematurely because of coal-fired power plants. Every year 38,000 heart attacks, 12,000 hospital admissions, and an additional 550,000 astham attacks occur as a result of power plant pollution. And, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that 12,000 miners died from black lung disease between 1992 and 2002.

Also, burning "clean" coal emits mercury due to electrical generation and mercury is hugely responsible for interfering with the development of babies' brains and neurological systems if it gets into a mother's blood or breast milk. This production of mercury also pollutes seafood and freshwater fish.

Activists taking on King Coal will now have a day in federal court. Over the course of the action, seven were arrested and Massey Energy now seeks $75,000 for "damages."

Total cost of bail for the activists was $9,625 and two tree-sitters remain in jail until each can raise funds for their bail, $2,500 (cash-only). [The activists encourage those who want to help to go to PayPal or, the website for Climate Ground Zero. ]

Over the course of the action, the tree sitters endured the typical harassment that activists have grown to expect from police or security.

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Climate Ground Zero reported on January 27th:

"While the tree sitters conduct this non-violent protest of mountaintop removal, they face constant harassment from Massey Security. The security personnel have been blasting five airhorns just below the sitters' platforms to force the sitters to descend. At one point, security personnel tied a rope to a thinner tree next to the one occupied by Nitchman, and repeatedly pulled and released the rope so that it would hit the bottom of Nitchman's platform. Discussion of spraying the sitters with firehoses has been heard over two-way radios. The police have been shown the appropriate West Virginia legal statute, 61-3E-10, have acknowledged the felony endangerment,and have declined to take any action. Prosecutors and Manchins' office have also refused to act after being notified of the situation and the laws that Massey is breaking."

News of harassment and possible violence against protesters led hundreds to contact Gov. Manchin, who "promised" that violence would not be tolerated.

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for

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