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Actress Daryl Hannah, Climate Scientist James Hansen Among 30+ Arrested Protesting Mountaintop Removal in West Virginia

StoryJune 24, 2009
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Bo Webb

local community activist. He is the former president of the board of directors of Coal River Mountain Watch.

Daryl Hannah


More than thirty people were arrested on Tuesday, including NASA climate scientist James Hansen and actress Daryl Hannah, protesting mountaintop removal in West Virginia. The protesters were charged with obstructing officers and impeding traffic after they sat down in the middle of the road outside of the facility run by Massey Energy. It was the latest protest in a growing civil disobedience campaign against mountaintop removal. We speak with actress Daryl Hannah and community activist Bo Webb. [includes rush transcript]

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.


As we move to our last segment today, we’re going to West Virginia. More than thirty people were arrested Tuesday, including the NASA climate scientist James Hansen and actress Daryl Hannah, protesting mountaintop removal in West Virginia. The protesters were charged with obstructing officers and impeding traffic as they sat down in the middle of the road outside the facility run by Massey Energy, the biggest company conducting mountaintop mining in the region.

NASA climate scientist James Hansen is calling for a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants and a permanent prohibition on mountaintop removal. Before his arrest, he explained why he was taking part in the protest.

Those arrested in the protest were among several hundred people who gathered for an anti-mountaintop removal rally held just down the road in a field adjacent to Marsh Fork Elementary School. Organizers picked the site because of the school’s proximity — less than 300 feet — to Massey’s operations. Protesters dropped their initial plan to enter the Massey site and risk arrest for trespassing, when several hundred coal miners and relatives along with supporters of the coal industry blocked the entrance, that according to the Charleston Gazette.

Well, Tuesday’s protest was the latest in a growing civil disobedience campaign against mountaintop removal in southern West Virginia. Environmental groups are promising a long summer of such actions, in part to try to push the Obama administration to ban mountaintop removal.

We go now to West Virginia, where we’re joined on the telephone both by Bo Webb, a local community activist, former president of the board of directors of Coal River Mining Watch — we’re also joined by actress Daryl Hannah, who was among those arrested at the protest.

Daryl, let’s begin with you. Can you talk about why you’re in West Virginia and why you were willing to risk arrest, why you did get arrested?


Well, I am just absolutely shocked that there are over 400 — 504 mountains that have been blown up and that they pushed out the rubble into the valleys below, crushing over 2,000 headwater streams. And it’s affected over — you know, close to two million acres in this area. And it’s just a completely destructive way of mining. And I think most people in the States don’t even know about it and would think that it was absolutely unacceptable and un-American to mine with these kinds of practices.


You usually live in California. Why go — why are you so concerned about mountaintop removal?


Actually, I live in the Rockies. I live near the mountains myself. But this is something that concerns all Americans, not just people who live in the affected regions, you know, because coal mining is just — is a dirty business. It affects us all. And so, I think it’s important for all of us to speak up and speak out when things are done in a way that can affect everyone’s health.


Have you had a chance to address this directly to President Obama?


No, I haven’t.


I’m wondering if you could put —


But I wish he would stop using the term "clean coal."


We certainly saw that everywhere at the Democratic convention, these signs that said “clean coal.” I was wondering if you could you put Bo Webb on the phone for a minute.


Yeah, he’s right here.


Local community activist, former president of the board of directors of Coal River Mining Watch. Bo, just give us a little history of the lead-up to this protest and how big the problem is.


Well, the problem is enormous. It’s beyond description. One would have to actually fly over and take a look at this and see what’s happening here. It’s a travesty.

It has been — mountaintop removal has been allowed to go on now for a number of years. I’d say fifteen years, at least. But when the George Bush administration came into office, they opened the floodgates up, and regulations have not been enforced. And they’re still not being enforced. And it’s just a growing, growing concern.

I believe that our Constitution provides for all Americans to have equal protection under the law. And in this case, in the coal fields of southern West Virginia where I live, that is not true. We’re not afforded that equal protection under the law. And that’s why we’re protesting. That’s why we’re risking arrest. And that’s why we continue to risk arrest, and we will continue all summer and beyond.

There’s an urgency to this. I live directly beneath a mountaintop removal site. And there is dust. There’s over three-and-a-half million pounds of explosives used per day in southern West Virginia, and some of that’s directly above my home. There is dust that collects on my deck that has glass in it, so I know that my family and my community is breathing silica dust. There’s boulders that stroll down the mountain, very near my garden. Our water is being poisoned. We live — those of us that live beneath these places live in a state of terror. We’re being terrorized. And I believe that the Obama administration needs to step up and protect us. We are in danger. And that’s why we’re doing this.


Very briefly, Bo Webb, you wrote a letter to Senator Byrd —




— telling him restoring mountains could be his greatest legacy. And I wanted you to comment on the climate change bill that Congressman Waxman is calling for support, reducing industrial emissions.


Well, I’m happy that Congressman Waxman has introduced such a bill, but the bill is weak. It’s a weak bill. In that bill, they’re proposing to give the coal industry — I believe it’s somewhere around $10 billion to do research on clean coal. If you can’t mine it clean, it’s not clean. And these giant sludge dams that they put above our community [inaudible] clean, they’re loaded with cadmium and lead and arsenic and mercury and heavy metals and chemicals from the coal-cleaning process. Those get stored above us. This stuff, where does it go? There’s no thing. There’s no vaporizer. There’s no such thing as clean coal, and there’s no such thing as carbon-free coal, because if you took all the carbon out, then there would be nothing left to burn.


Bo Webb, we’re going to have to leave it there, but we’ll certainly follow the issue, and we’ll link to your letter to Senator Byrd on our website at Bo Webb, former president of the board of directors of Coal River Mining Watch, and actress Darryl Hannah, speaking to us both from West Virginia, where they were arrested yesterday.

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