Any greenie will tell you that mountaintop removal mining is a bad idea. Not only does the practice— which involves blowing the top of mountains off with explosives— destroy acres and acres of forest and habitats for many (sometimes endangered) species of animals, but the end result is often more coal to be burned in CO2-emitting power plants.
But there’s another reason why hundreds of protesters marched 50 miles from Charleston, West Virginia to Blair Mountain and joined up with an estimated 1,500 more in order to protest strip mining on the site: the mountain is a historic landmark.
In 1921, a battle took place at Blair Mountain between 10,000 coal miners and the mine operators. The fight, which took the lives of hundreds, was over the miners’ right to organize, and is often credited as being one of the major events in starting the labor movement of the 20th century.
Saving Blair Mountain from mountaintop removal mining seems like it would be a no-brainer, but things are more complicated for Blair residents and other West Virginians hit by a bad economy and high unemployment. For many of them, the mine means more jobs that are desperately needed.
But with the potential pollution of the air and water in the area, the removal of forest, the displacement of sediment, and other consequences of strip mining on top of the fact that Blair Mountain holds such historical significance, the nearly 2,000 protesters that assembled on the mountain yesterday don’t see the few jobs it would create as a worthwhile trade.
As the protesters clashed with pro-coal anti-protesters, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. delivered a speech that shed light on the futility of coal mining: “Coal has not brought prosperity to West Virginia, it’s brought devastation and poverty,” said Kennedy. “Look at Whitesville, all of these communities, dozens of them are gone. They are depopulating the Appalachians. That’s not prosperity.”