For the past week a drama has played out in Pettry Bottom, West Virginia as tensions in the area continue to threaten violence in what is now ground zero in the battle to preserve a stable climate and protect the environment. The long struggle against Mountain Top Removal Mining has drawn national attention this summer after numerous arrests including those of pre-imminent climate scientist James Hansen, actor Daryl Hannah, and ex- secretary of state Ken Hechler. As the battlelines are drawn between King Coal represented by Massey energy and opposition the threat of violence from Massey and it's employees is very real and authorities at the federal, state, and local level appear content to stand behind big energy and wait for bloodshed. It would not be the first time.The latest episode in the ongoing protests against Massey Energy and MTR in West Virginia involved three women and one man. Laura Steepleton and Nick Stocks spent the past week treesitting 80 feet above the ground in an act of civil disobedience protesting Massey Energy's MTR site there. By doing so they effectively halted operations which terrorize local residents on a daily basis and cause enormous environmental destruction. The two women providing ground support Zoe Beavers and Kim Ellis were arrested twice for assisting Nick and Laura. Climate Ground Zero Video
When asked about her thoughts after Nick and Laura's arrest Zoe said;
Kim and I were catch and release. Sgt. Smith (WV State Police) told us "if they (Laura & Nick) would just get their damn asses out of the trees Massey will leave you alone." Some of the TMK security were amazing, they compared our treesitting to hunting in a blind. The great thing is a lot of locals got excited by this and voiced their support."
Laura and Nick didn't have it quite so easy. Beginning Wednesday evening, Massey began round the clock assaults on the pair. After Nick came down Thursday morning and was arrested, the threats became violent with Massey employees and loggers cutting three trees next to Laura so that they would crash into her position. Then they began to fell the tree she was sitting in 80 feet above them. This was clearly a life threatening action. Most disturbingly, the State Police knew this was going to happen and took no action whatsoever to protect Laura's safety. Nick said, "While I was being processed, Sgt Smith said Massey had told him they were stepping up the campaign to get her down".Massey contracted with a private security firm, TMK, to police the site during the protest. Subsequent instructions from Massey for the private contractors to join Massey employees in harassing Nick and Laura by constant noise, bright lights at night, intimidation, obscenities, and threats of violence including chainsaws running and cutting into the trees they were sitting in resulted in all of the private security personnel walking off the job. The behavior of Massey employees and the directives from management, acknowledged to have been approved directly by CEO Don Blankenship, were so aggressively violent and posed a threat to the safety and well being of Laura in particular, that six of the team sent by TMK Security walked off the job in protest. Two of the guards, Chris Carrey and Patrick Curry described the events in an on camera interview - despite the threat from Massey that they will never work in West Virginia again. The story they tell and their perspectives are illuminating; Jordan Freeman Video
Wednesday morning Nick come voluntarily came down and was arrested. It was then that Massey began aggressively threatening Laura's life in an effort to force her down.
Laura describes it this way;
"The ten loggers who came through the back cut the three trees next to me then knotched the one closest so it was guaranteed to cause me personal injury when they fell. The State Police knew they were going to do this and did not return so I had no choice but to come down. It was a good week. The security guards walked off the job."
Despite repeated requests from citizens whose lives and country are being destroyed daily the Obama administration has to date refused invitations to visit the area and see first hand what the situation really is - the extent of destruction can only be appreciated first hand from the air. The EPA did send a small delegation earlier in the year to meet with the Coal companies, not the people who are suffering. Area residents are threatened by toxic pollutants in their air and water, as well as billions of gallons of toxic waste held back by nothing more than walls of dirt. The previous Bush administration made rule changes allowing MTR to blast the mountains virtually at will and the Obama administration has been disappointingly slow to address this most serious climate issue. If the Administration cannot address MTR, it would be foolish indeed to expect meaningful action from the US in Copenhagen at the critical COP15 Climate Conference in December.
Follow Jerry Cope on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jercope