Coalfield Residents Meet with CEO of Alpha Natural Resources
Abingdon, Virginia – Eight residents from coal mining areas of southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia met this afternoon with Alpha Natural Resources CEO Kevin Crutchfield. These citizens had requested the meeting with Alpha because of Alpha's pending takeover of Massey Energy, the leading producer of coal from mountaintop removal mining. Residents discussed the devastating impact of mountaintop removal mining and requested that Alpha make some changes to reduce the impacts of the Massey operations that it is inheriting. Massey Energy has one of the worst environmental and safety records of any major coal company.
Community members attending the meeting were favorably impressed by Alpha's willingness to listen to their concerns. “I knew that they weren't going to agree to stop strip mining, but I wanted to tell them about the health issues in our communities,” said Michael Clark, a board member of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “I was impressed that the CEO was there. They didn't do a lot of talking and seemed very interested in hearing what we had to say.”
The residents presented a range of concerns to Alpha. Alpha was asked to halt blasting near the Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment in the Coal River Valley of southern West Virginia, which residents fear is weakening the structural integrity of the impoundment; failure of the impoundment could kill a thousand people living downstream. Residents also expressed their anger over the poor reclamation practices on Massey's mountaintop removal operations.
The residents called on Alpha to switch its coal processing plants to a dry processing process that would eliminate the production of coal slurry. Residents discussed how coal slurry impoundments pose a serious threat to public safety, and how underground injection of coal slurry has led to serious groundwater contamination in some communities. Dry processing would eliminate the need for new impoundments or injection sites.
Alpha promised to look into some of the specific issues raised at the meeting, regarding the stability of the Brush Fork impoundment, the reclamation practices on sites like Twilight and Kayford in southern West Virginia, and the possibility of switching to dry processing for slurry. Meeting attendees were cautiously optimistic that Alpha will prove to be a better neighbor than Massey, while also recognizing that surface mining is still an inherently destructive process: “I think they know that there are productive steps they can take to reduce the impacts from surface mining and also from coal slurry … But, with regard to mountaintop removal, destruction is still destruction any way they do it,” said Debbie Jarrell of Rock Creek, WV and co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch.
The meeting attendees are hopeful that this meeting marks the beginning of a productive dialogue between Alpha and the communities impacted by its mining operations. Alpha requested a follow-up meeting in July, once the company has acquired Massey and has had time to investigate some of the concerns presented at today's meeting. According to Paul Corbit-Brown of Pax, WV, “They haven't made any promises, but they want to continue the dialogue and they are interested in our specific suggestions. This is the most hope I've had for there to be a very meaningful dialogue.”
Attendees at the meeting included: Paul Corbit-Brown of Pax, WV; Debbie Jarrell of Rock Creek, WV; Michael Clark of Big Stone Gap, VA; Dorothy Taulbee of Coeburn, VA; Paula Swearengin of Glen White, WV; and Junior Walk, Kim Ellis, and Glen Collins of Whitesville, WV. They represent local organizations Coal River Mountain Watch, Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, and the RAMPS Campaign. The meeting was organized by the RAMPS Campaign.