Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Will Alpha Listen to Coalfield Residents?

Written by On The Road Again Program Speaker and Glen White, WV Resident Paula Swearengin

Yesterday as a mother fighting against "Disposable Appalachia" and a representative of the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation I got to join some great people and visit Alpha Natural Resources in Abingdon, Va. to approach them with many questions about the future of Appalachia.  We met with Kevin S.Crutchfield, chief executive officer, and Michael R. Peelish, executive vice president to discuss what they "inherited" from Massey Energy. Alpha Natural Resources recently announced plans to acquire Richmond, Virginia based Massey Energy with a $7.1 billion buyout.

We approached them with many topics such as a general overview of the effects of mountain top removal and coal mining on the people of Appalachia. Michael Clark and Dorothy Taulbee, both coalfield residents and representatives of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), discussed how they had been affected on a personal level by mountain top removal. Dorothy showed them pictures of what used to be her home and explained that her town no longer exists because it is now buried beneath a slurry impoundment. She went through a list of loved ones and friends she had lost due to illnesses they acquired from exposure to toxins. She went on to explain that she had gotten sick as well with lung cancer (she never smoked) and even survived the loss of a lung. She paused in her speech and gently patted Michael Peelish on the shoulder to say "I think God spared me so I can be like Moses and spread a message. You can't do this, honey." She almost brought me to tears.

An image that is lingering in my thoughts is a big picture they had hanging in their board room. It was of a miner's hands clenched together. The hands were dirty from coal and the thumbnail looked somewhat bloody. Michael Peelish started his introduction by talking about those hands.  He proudly said he gave a copy of the picture to each miner they employed. He talked of things like integrity and safety while I was drawn to the reality of what those hands mean. They only thing I could think about was the sacrifice the people of Appalachia have made for coal and what coal has cost us. When it came to be my turn to speak I couldn't stop myself from telling them what those hands meant to me. I pointed to the picture and said "Those hands are my grandfather's hands. He died with dirty lungs. Those hands are my Daddy's hands who died of lung cancer from asbestos and dirty lungs. Those hands are my Stepfather's hands who now has heart disease and dirty lungs!"

Debbie Jarrell of Coal River Mountain Watch continued talking about "those
hands" when it came to be her turn to speak. She talked about "those hands" being her families too. She also said "We have always dealt with the boom and bust of the coal industry. When you are through this time we are really going to be hurting!" Throughout the entire meeting we then tried to portray to them what they had on THEIR hands. The destruction of Appalachia and its people for profit. These are the stories Alpha's executives need to hear when they are worried about bottom lines and this country's demand for coal.

The rest of the meeting consisted of discussions about Coal River Mountain, Kayford Mountain, reclamation, the slurry impoundment in Brushy Fork and with each of us sharing something personal with them and how we were affected. I left feeling somewhat optimistic because even though they said a lot about safety they didn't give us any reassurances or promises about ending mountain top removal. They did promise to investigate our concerns, including visiting the Brushy Fork Impoundment just as soon as things were finalized in June and invited us to come back some time in July. We'll see what comes from that.

I want to thank everybody that got involved in the meeting and for giving me the opportunity to share my voice. I encourage all of you to write letters to Alpha Natural Resources and share your concerns and experiences. They need to know that not only did they inherit more coal production by buying out Massey Energy they also inherited more of the demise of innocent people that goes along with coal production.

Blessings to you all,

Paula Swearengin

Attendees for this meeting were as follows:

-Debbie Jarrell of Coal River Mountain Watch
-Dorothy Taulbee of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards
-Glen Collins of RAMPS Campaign
-Kim Ellis of RAMPS Campaign
-Junior Walk of Coal River Mountain Watch and Keeper of the Mountains Foundation
-Michael Clark of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards
-Paul Brown of Pax, WV
-Paula Swearengin of the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation