Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Witnessing the Subversion of Democracy in West Virginia

Rahall tells constituents that 90% of the work he does is "symbolic"


Mike Roselle watches Chris Hamilton, Vice-President of the West Virginia Coal Association and Roger Horton representing the UMWA in Logan County, WV enter the House Oversight Committee hearing over the Environmental Protection Agency's actions in Appalachia, July 13, 2011 in Washington, DC. photo credit: Antrim Caskey / Appalachia Watch
 
     As a resident of the Coal River Valley in Raleigh County, West Virginia, I sat in a meeting with a handful of Appalachian Ambassadors at Congressman Nick Joe Rahall’s office on July 13, 2011 in Washington, DC.  It was stunning to see the 18th-term Congressman stare in silence -- his only real reply -- as Bo Webb, Maria Gunnoe and Vernon Haltom described the horror and the heartbreak of living with the long-term effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. Armed with the latest Hendryx report, which cites the connection between increased chance of birth defects in newborns with living near mountaintop removal operations, these Power-Hillbillies put this latest evidence in front of a distracted Rahall and announced their demand for an immediate moratorium on mountaintop removal. Rahall had nothing to say other than trying to pass the buck, first to, Alpha Natural Resources (Massey Energy's new name), then Office of Surface Mining (OSM). What we witnessed in Representative Nick Joe Rahall's office is what Bobby Kennedy Jr calls the “subversion of democracy in the state of West Virginia,” and we stared back in silence, in anticipation, as Rep. Rahall, stone dead in the eyes, the dome of the Capitol filling the large window behind him, said nothing to us West Virginians demanding to be represented.

This is what the subversion of democracy looks like in West Virginia, where sprawling corporations have woven their money-hungry tentacles all throughout the Appalachians in search and removal of coal, seizing more that 550 mountaintops and 5000 miles of headwater streams; annihilating hundreds of mountain hamlets, so many treasures, spurned with contempt.  All of the normal paths to correct injustices like Massey's chronic corporate nuisances, like the courts and regulatory agencies, have been compromised beyond belief. Instead, West Virginians face a state Supreme Court where the Chief Justice Brent Benjamin was elected with 3 million dollars of help from the local coal company, Massey Energy.
Dennis Kucinich speaks with residents from the Coal River Valley after the House Oversight Committee hearing on 13 July, 2011, and directs his aide to set up a visit with Bo Webb and Vernon Haltom of Coal River Mountain Watch.  photo credit: Antrim Caskey/Appalachia Watch

Finally, it was Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio who heard us during the House Oversight Committee hearing where Rep. Kucinich proposed a visit to see the atrocities he's been hearing so much about, especially in the brilliant new documentary, The Last Mountain. Kucinich repeatedly demanded that he "wants to view specific sites in the Coal River Valley." We anticipate Congressman Kucinich's visit and we would welcome Congressional investigations into the health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. It is imperative that you act on this issue. 

Where does your energy come from? Check here.

Antrim Caskey
Rock Creek, WV

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