Mountaintop Mining Protest

  • One of the organizers of the rally opposing mountaintop removal coal mining scheduled the protest to coincide with the first day of climate talks in Copenhagen. (Photo by Sandra Sleight-Brennan)

World leaders are in Copenhagen,
Denmark where the debate over
what to do about climate change
is getting loud sometimes. But
in West Virginia coal country, the
debate is even louder. Lester
Graham reports:


World leaders are in Copenhagen,
Denmark where the debate over
what to do about climate change
is getting loud sometimes. But
in West Virginia coal country, the
debate is even louder. Lester
Graham reports:

When the West Virginia Coal Association heard about plans for a rally to protest mountaintop removal coal mining, it issued an email. The Associaiton wanted supporters of the coal industry to hold a counter protest to the quote, “liberal enviro-whacko’s rally.”

(sound of protest and truck horns)

The coal mining supporters not only showed up, but they brought in some big trucks, horns blaring to try to disrupt the protest speakers at the rally in front of the offices of West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The Coal industry’s message was simple. Coal means jobs. Jobs mean paychecks.

But the protestors against mountaintop removal coal mining say there are more important things.

One of those speakers was Maria Gunnoe. She’s a coal miner’s daughter who’s worked against the environmental damage of blowing off the tops of Appalaichan mountains to get to the coal. The blasted debris has been dumped into valleys, damaging streams and water supplies.

“I challenge you. You think it’s hard to live without a paycheck? Try living with nothing to give your children to drink. Paycheck’s not important when you don’t have water to give your children.”

Maria Gunnoe has been there. She lives in a valley just downhill from a debris fill. She testified against the coal companies in a court case to stop them from dumping debris in streams. Let’s just say she’s not a popular figure among the pro-coal folks.

Bo Webb lives in Coal River Valley. He’s one of the organizers of the rally opposing mountaintop removal coal mining. He scheduled the protest the same day climate talks in Copenhagen started. He’d liked to see the people where he lives get something from those negotiations.

“I’m hoping what comes out of Copenhagen for here would be a message that some of these miners could start understanding and stop manipu- allowing- themselves to be manipulated by a coal industry that’s got one concern, and that’s profits.”

At the counter-rally, many of the coal mining supporters did not want to talk to news people. One guy who would talk is Gary Finley. He’s from Ohio and sells equipment to the coal mining industry.

“You know, this industry is regulated, heavily regulated, now. It has been since, what, 1977? (Yep.) So, you know, we’re doing everything that’s dictated by law in the mining of coal.”

When asked about the future of coal, Finley hesitated.

“Well, (laughs) right now I’m uncertain. I can tell you what I hope it’ll be. I hope it continues. You know, we’ve got a lot of coal in these mountains. I don’t believe the people in this country realize how important coal is to the economy of the eastern United States, people realize when they go into their homes and turn on their light switch and the electric comes on, if we don’t mine coal, that’s gonna be- it’s done.”

The protest was a lot of passionate speakers, a lot of booing, and a lot of truck horns.

But what irritated the coal mining supporters more than anything seemed to be the idea that outsiders were coming to West Virginia to tell them what to do. And the liberal outsider that aggravated them most was environmentalist Robert Kennedy, Junior. Kennedy calls fossil fuels a deadly addiction that’s wrecking the country, and says mountaintop removal coal mining is destroying communities.

“And, you know, we need to figure out ways to power our country that don’t compromise the aspirations of future generations, don’t compromise their potential for prosperity, for wholesome, dignified communities.”

In the end, nothing was settled in West Virginia, just as nothing will be settled in Copenhagen.

But at the local level and the international level, people are talking about fossil fuels differently. Some see a bright future in renewable, sustainable energy and preserved forested mountains, while others feel their lives and their livelihoods threatened.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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Protesters Target Pvc

  • Activists want Target to stop carrying PVC plastic products because of potential links with toxins. (photo by Lester Graham)

Polyvinyl chloride and the chemicals used to make it are thought to be
linked to birth defects and cancers. So activists are urging companies
to stop using the plastic. America’s 6th largest retailer Target was
recently handed 10,000 signatures at its annual shareholders
meeting. The petition urges the company to phase out the use of PVC
plastic in the products it sells. Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports:


Polyvinyl chloride and the chemicals used
to make it are thought by some to be linked to
birth defects and cancers. The petition was
delivered to the annual shareholders meeting.
Lisa Ann Pinkerton has more:

In white hazmat suits and dust masks, about 30 protesters chant on the street in front of the new Target store.
It’s the site of this year’s shareholder meeting
and one of those protesters is Brad Melzer, a biology professor at Lake Erie
College in Ohio. But Melzer’s not shaking a protest sign right now. Instead, he’s trying to keep his infant
son shaded and cool in the noon-day sun. As little Winston lounges in a stroller, sucking on a bottle, Melzer says he’s
here today because he’s read about PVC plastic and its possible toxicity to

“To be honest, I don’t even know if this nipple has PVC in it. He could already be
ingesting these things.”

Protests like this one are happening simultaneously in 200 locations across the country,
but in Cleveland, protesters have turned in a petition with 10,000 signatures urging Target
to stop stocking its shelvesproducts containing polyvinyl chloride, or PVC.

Not too far away from the Melzers, is Doctor Cynthia Bearer of Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, and she chats with a
woman holding a protest sign reading “Way off Target with Toxic Toys.”

Bearer’s main concern is chemicals called pthalates, which help soften PVC plastic. The
most common is known as DEHP. Bearer says the chemicals may leach from teething
rings, shower curtains and packaging, and put young children at risk:

“Pthalates are known to be endocrine disrupters. They interact with the thyroid

And they can cause abnormalities in infants, she says, including reproductive

“So we can actually measure health effects, particularly on male infants in terms of their
sexual development at the time of birth from exposure to pthalates.”

Like Dr. Bearer and Brad Melzer, some of the protesters are science professionals.
Some are just concerned parents and others are advocates for children. Maureen Swanson is with the Learning Disabilities Association of America. She says the development of children’s brains might be impaired by exposure
to chemicals in PVC. She says even if science can’t pinpoint right now why 1 in 6
children suffer from learning disabilities, something needs to be done. She says the burden on America’s schools is growing:

“The percentage of school funding that has to go to help these kids who have learning
and developmental disabilities, then that impacts the school’s ability to fund other
educational needs.”

Some precautions have been made to reduce exposure to some of the PVC-related chemicals.
The US Food and Drug Administration has advised against using DEHP in medical
devices, and the Environmental Protection Agency has listed it as a probable carcinogen,
but the government doesn’t bar the use of DEHP in any product.

Even without the ban on the chemicals, 53 companies, including Target’s largest competitor, Wal-Mart, have begun phasing
out the products that contain PVC. Target Spokeswoman Carolyn Brookter says her company has some options it’s working on,
but it’s reluctant to set a time table for phasing out PVC. But she says that doesn’t mean that Target isn’t taking the
issue seriously:

“We’re talking to out buyers, we’re talking to our venders and we’re asking them to look
into some alternatives that we have.”

If Target doesn’t move on the PVC issue, new dad Brian Melzer
says he’ll be left with a difficult shopping dilemma:

“I don’t like shopping at Wal-Mart at all. But… if Target continues its practices of not phasing
out PVCs. Yeah, then definitely I would choose one of their competitors, and if it had to
be Wal-Mart, I guess it would have to be Wal-Mart.”

However, at this point, Target Spokeswoman Brookter doesn’t think the company will
lose business on this single issue.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lisa Ann Pinkerton.

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