Appalachians Occupy Congress!

Photo of retired underground coal miner Stanley Sturgill from Kentucky, whose op-ed, "The Cost of Being Number One in Mountaintop Removal" appeared in The Hill on 6/4/12.  Appalachia Rising reports that Sturgill was one of 22 arrested--of the approximately 4 dozen deployed--2 from VA, 7 from WV, 7 from KY and 6 from TN.


In a continuation of the direct actions I last reported on from West Virginia on May 24, this morning at 10:34 residents from my home state of Virginia,  joined those from three other states severely impacted by mountaintop removal coal mining to conduct a sit-in in protest of their Congressmen's  refusal to protect their communities in the offices of  Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Nick Rahall (D-WV), Hal Rogers (R-KY), and Jimmy Duncan (R-TN).

I first posted at 10:47 a.m. and am updating this,  having heard back at 3:53 pm from Lieutenant Kimberly Schneider of the Capitol Police that
Names aren’t yet available and defendants are currently being processed @ U.S. Capitol Police Headquarters. 
She provided an outline of places, times and number of arrests, all 21 for unlawful entry.  The number is off by one and the allocation by state is rearranged from what Appalachia Rising reported, so I'm checking back:
  • Longworth Bldg., Room 1108, approx. 11:30 am  is the office of Morgan Griffith
    7 arrests (v.s.2)
  • Rayburn Bldg., Room 2406, approx. 12:26 pm is the office of Hal Rogers
    6 arrests (v.s. 7)
  • Rayburn Bldg., Room 2307, approx.. 12:58 pm is the office of Nick Rahall
    6 arrests (v.s. 7)
  • Rayburn Bldg., Room 2207, approx. 1:49 pm is the office of John Duncan
    2 arrests (v.s. 6)
Here's a (blurry) screen shot (at 58 seconds) of this of several live videos posted at about 2 p.m.  It shows the eventual arrest of West Virginian Larry Gibson by Capitol Police.  Folks were singing  John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads."

And here's a screen shot  (at 17 seconds  in this video) of Jane Braham, a retired nurse who lives in Wise County and a member of  Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.  She's standing outside Morgan Griffith's office and folks are singing her original song, "Stop Tearing the Mountain Down."

Jane explained her participation in the sit-in to Dana Kuhnline of the Alliance for Appalachia before it started:
We have no choice...My health is failing; we have some elderly people with us today. It is very hard for us to come all this way. But we are here fighting for our very survival.

 Her fellow member Laura Miller,  a retired professor who was not arrested, told Kuhnline, 
What I’d really like to see is for Griffith to get his head out of the sand and represent the people of our district instead of selling his soul to the coal industry....I’m fighting for a future and a hope that we can have a sustainable economic situation in the areas of Appalachia that have suffered because of coal. I’d like to see future generations able to stay in the homeplaces where our families have been here for centuries. We need to stop mountaintop removal YESTERDAY.

Ken Ward, Jr. of the Charleston Gazette has written in an eloquent essay about coal politics and how it seeks to ignores "[t]he solid scientific consensus about mountaintop removal’s damage to our environment — not to mention the growing evidence of its impacts on public health."

MTR's  "strip mining on steroids" results in staggering public health costs and districts with mountaintop removal face some of the highest poverty rates in the United States.  More than similar counties with no mining. Branham and the others list of demands for Representative Griffith are that he:

1. Schedule a visit before October to tour Wise County with residents of communities affected by mountaintop removal  (including Inman, Roda, Andover, Exeter, and Appalachia)

2. Cease attacking the EPA because that agency is the only one enforcing the regulations designed to protect Appalachian communities.

3. Stop slandering constituents who are working to defend their communities against the adverse impacts of mountaintop removal.

4. Represent the people in his district, rather than the coal companies, by signing on to co-sponsor HB1375, the Clean Water Protection Act.

The demands for Rayhall, Rogers and Duncan are similar.

Why do I think Griffith won't listen?  Is it because he (and Democrat Rick Boucher before him) would rather represent the coal companies?    When Griffith was running against Boucher, I wrote him on 7/29/2010:
I don't expect that you'll remember me, but I was the founding Executive Director of New River Community Sentencing and we chatted once about railroads at some judicial function. I'm wondering what your position will be on the EPA's regulation of fly ash and on supporting the Clean Water Protection Act, to stop the dumping of top soil, trees and mine waste resulting from the current methods used in mountaintop removal coal mining.

This is one place where you might distinguish yourself from Mr. Boucher and win support in the northern part of District 9, as well as a significant number of folks living in the coal fields who do not like their mountains being blown up.

 I didn't hear back until August and then it was from campaign staffer and subsequent executive assistant Mary Stafford, who wrote on 8/25,
I appreciate your email to Morgan - and I apologize that I have just now found it. We had a major email error that would not allow us to access the email account to which you wrote.

Morgan believes in a balance of protecting the environment but not to the point of onerous regulations making it difficult to do business. Fly Ash is an interesting topic to understand and treat responsibly. Do you have a more specific question I can pass on to Morgan for you?

I appreciate your patience, and again apologize for the response time.

I wrote back that same day,
Thanks for getting back in touch...my questions are as follows:
1. What is Morgan's position on the Clean Water Protection Act which seeks to stop the dumping of waste from Mountaintop removal in streams?
2. What is Morgan's position on regulation of fly ash as a hazardous waste by the EPA.
If he needs more information on these issues I will be glad to send it to him.
That was almost two years ago. I'm still waiting for Morgan Griffith to respond...