KAYFORD MOUNTAIN, WV— My friend Matt Noerpel and I drove up the steep gravel road to Larry Gibson’s place up on Kayford Mountain to swap out the batteries in his security cameras. Two of Larry’s dogs have been killed and his cabin burned down for defending his home. We were the only ones on the mountain that day, I imagine Larry was traveling, speaking about the destruction coal companies have perpetrated on his and thousands of others’ homes through mountaintop removal coal mining. Changing the batteries didn’t take long, and Matt and I walked out toward a clearing of the woods, the edge of the woods really.
We crested a small hill and thousands of acres opened up below us. I saw for miles around, took in the beautiful mountains in the far distance. It was a bit of problem that I could see the mountains in the far distance. There were no mountains in the foreground. No trees, no streams, no birds, no bears, no topsoil. Just blasted rock, a few thousand acres of blasted rock. This was not a day of levity for me.
This day in early June 2007 defined the last two years of my college career. I knew that what I wanted to do, what I need to do, is help stop mountaintop removal somehow, some way. Down in the hollers and among activists everyone knows about mountaintop removal and what a hilariously stupid “how could this even be real” idea it is. Lots of these people have tried lots of things to stop mountaintop removal, but the biggest problem always seems to be that not enough of the public knows about it to make it an issue for politicians or corporations. It’s one thing to a have a flea in your ear, it’s another to have a swarm. So upon graduating in May 2009, I returned to Ohio Citizen Action, where I’d canvassed as a summer job in 2008.
That summer we talked with thousands of people across Ohio about mountaintop removal. Specifically, we spoke about involvement of the president of Ohio State University with Massey Energy, one of the worst companies in terms of environmental and employee safety. OSU’s president, Dr. Gordon Gee, was on the board of Massey, but was not denouncing their mountaintop removal practices. So we talked with people about that and the fact that he’s the highest paid public school employee in the United States. With the help of the people we talked to at their front doors, we sent Dr. Gee 6,643 letters and he stepped down from the board of Massey.
Just by talking with people at their front doors, we were able to show Massey that the people have power to influence their inner circle. That happened in about two months, so then we sent about 19,938 letters to Lisa Jackson, administrator of the U.S. EPA, then sent 56,872 letters to U.S. Representatives and Senator Brown, urging them to support legislation to end mountaintop removal. Many of them did support that legislation. So mountaintop removal has taken some serious hits in the last few years, but it’s still happening so we’re still fighting to get off of dirty coal.
— Nathan Rutz, Southwest Ohio Program Assistant, Ohio Citizen Action