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Safety of Dozens of Citizens Threatened at “Public Hearing”

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

On October 13, 2009, The Army Corps of Engineering hosted one of six hearing on the proposed suspension of Nationwide Permits 21 permits on mountaintop removal in Charleston, WV. Tonight, hearings are also occurring in Pittsburgh, PA, Big Stone Gap, VA and Cambridge, OH, and citizens are concerned for their safety at these hearings as well.

At the Charleston, WV hearing, lack of respect for public safety as well as lack of proper planning created an extremely dangerous situation and prohibited many people from attending or speaking at the hearing. There was no removal of those people who were disrupting the event and there was no serious reprimand of those who were disrupting the event. The Army Corps did not act to prevent this disruption of free speech.

Before the hearings, the Army Corps and local police were contacted by residents concerned for their safety. Clearly these concerns were not taken seriously.

Citizens who were endangered are calling again upon Governor Joe Manchin and other prominent state officials to publicly reprimand those responsible for creating this dangerous environment and perform a full inquiry into propaganda from the coal industry of other entities that may have contributed to this violent situation. Previous pleas to the governor and industry and political leaders have gone ignored. Instead, inflammatory rhetoric has increased.

Those attending noted that many claims of the coal industry and supporters were extremely exaggerated or simply untrue. This appears to be the result of a national fear campaign which is impeding progress in the state of West Virginia and endangering the lives of citizens. The issues which impact those who live near mountaintop removal are serious and devastating, and those facing these issues should receive a safe atmosphere to address them.

It was noted that in West Virginia, the Federal Court decision under Judge Goodwin all but ended the use of NWP 21 for valley in southern WV where the Huntington Corps regulates such activities. Therefore, it is likely that none of those threatening on behalf of the coal industry had jobs that were in any way impacted by the outcome of the hearing.

Following are a few representative statements from citizens who attended the hearing, each are available for comment or follow up interviews.

From Danny Chiotos, Organizer, The Student Environmental Action Coalition:

I was inside the Army Corps of Engineers Public Hearing on the repeal of Nationwide Permit 21 from 5:30 to 9:30. I am somewhat hesitant to call it a Public hearing because Mountaintop Removal supporters actively prevented us from giving comments and actively prevented people who came at 6:30 or after from waiting in line to enter the building. From what I experienced inside the building and saw outside the building, the Mountaintop Removal industry’s actions were a direct and successful attack on our ability to participate in this Hearing.

I saw Mountaintop Removal supporters shout as loud as they could through every single anti-mountaintop removal speaker. For example, they shouted through Vivian Stockman’s comments and then when the Army Corps gave her 15 extra seconds to speak, the MTR Supporters shouted a countdown of “15-14-13…3-2-1”. They awarded her an additional 30 seconds after that where she tried to put together a statement, but there continued to be intentional disruption of her comments. When I got up to speak, I spoke of my love of my country and my love of our values of democracy. I had to shout this and the rest of my comments into the microphone so that I could hear myself speak over the crowd.

The Army Corps of Engineers does hard and good work, but the way this Hearing was handled allowed the Mountaintop Removal Supporters to prevent both sides from being heard. There were many many many many times during the event that the MTR supporters were asked to be quiet – but none of those requests were honored. There was no removal of those people who were disrupting the event and there was no serious reprimand of those who were disrupting the event. The Army Corps should have had a swifter and more serious response at the beginning of the event to prevent this kind of disruption of all of our free speech from happening.

While I was in a conversation, the MTR supporters repeatedly shoulder shoved me to get me to move.

Outside of the building, the situation was even more serious. There was a crowd of 500 or so Mountaintop Removal supporters who physically and verbally threatened those on our side who were trying to patiently wait in line. Many people who would have waited in line to enter and give their comments (as people left from inside) were forced to leave, infringing on their freedom to participate in this event. My girlfriend and her step-father were outside, about to enter the building when their lives and safety was threatened. At 7:49 PM I received a text message from her that said, “They [MTR Supporters] are screaming at us Said theyd string us from trees One had to be restrained for attacking us We werent responding They [the police] said it was easier to make us leave than to make them [MTR Supporters] stop We were next in line to get in.” The person who had to be restrained from attacking her took three police officers to hold him back. When I went to the police to alert them to the situation, they threatened to kick me out. I got a similar call from friends who were trying to wait to get in but were unsafe from the attitude of the mob-like crowd. This happened time and time again that evening.

When I left the building with a small crowd of friends under police escort, which was necessary because we were getting reports of threats and violence from the MTR supporters outside, there were repeated threats and obscenities hurled at me.

The response of the police was to punish our attempts to voice our opinions. The City of Charleston’s police did all they could to respond to the situation and I know that they were trying to maintain safety as much as possible and I respect them. The police also did a great job of escorting me and other anti-mountaintop removal speakers through the crowd outside to the safety of our cars, which was necessary. The decision on the number of officers present and the decision to allow the MTR supporters to assemble directly in front of the entrance to the Civic Center were poor ones, though. There needed to be more police on hand to keep order. The impression, which I’m not sure is true, of the police’s goal was to maintain safety by doing everything that they could to ensure that the MTR supporters’ crowd kept from rioting (from where I stood it seemed like they were really close to significant violence).

The placement of the crowd of MTR supporters was a serious mistake as well. This crowd should have been kept away from the main entrance to the Civic Center or there should have been another entrance opened up. The MTR supporters definitely have the right to protest, but their rally should have been kept at a respectful distance from the entrance to the building. The reality that the response to the threats of the MTR supporters’ crowd was to remove anti-MTR citizens and prevent them from participating in this event speaks to the fact that this was not a “public” or “safe” event.

This is a serious issue on the protections of our right to free speech and our right to safety. With the increasingly threatening and mob-like atmosphere that surrounds the MTR Supporters’ crowd, the Police who we rely on to maintain safety have to be ready in force to maintain safety.

From Chuck Nelson, Glen Daniel, West Virginia:

There were about ten of us, we were the last group leaving from inside. We were waiting to give our comments when word was brought back in about what was happening outside. As we talked with each of our group inside, things just kept getting more crazy. We decided to leave then as a group, and proceeded to make our departure.

Insults were hurled at us as we were leaving, with a bunch of thugs following. Once in the lobby, I went directly to a Charleston city officer, and requested an escort to our vehicles, with an angry group outside the doors. The officer told me, that we should have known what was going to happen when we came there. He did escort us to the front doors, and told Ben, as we were leaving, “You are on your own.”

We made our way outside, only to be met with more insults — that followed us practically all the way to our vehicles. We made calls on our phones, and tried to make sure that everyone was all right.

I wondered where the state troopers were, not one was ever visible. I wonder, how in the world can the Army Corps make a decision on an important permit, when they can’t even conduct a proper, and peaceful hearing?

From Dana Kuhnline, Charleston, WV

I had to leave early and didn’t see any point in speaking anyway. I had left my bag in my friendís car, so he waited in the lobby while I dashed out to the car, got my bag, and went to return the keys. He wasn’t at the door when I got back and so I texted him; the police wouldn’t let me in to return them. While I stood there waiting for him to return, the mob folk thought I was trying to get into the hearing and were screaming and pulling at my bag. They got a rousing chant of “Go Home!” started which was ironic, because of course their antics were preventing me from doing so. The Police officer wouldn’t let me inside to wait for my friend even though I was being threatened, pushed and stepped on. When my friend came back and grabbed the keys, the police officer said, “Do me a favor, for your own personal safety, leave as soon as you can, don’t try to engage these people in conversation”

I was a little dumbfounded, but didn’t have the presence of mind to ask for a police escort. So I turned to leave, and someone was stomping my feet and pushing me really hard so that I flew forward into a few miners. I turned to see who it was and it was a lady holding a little baby! She had another woman as her back up and they were both screaming in my face, and trying to pick a fight about why I would attack a little baby. I looked at her and said, “You pushed me with your baby?” and walked away.

As I moved through the crowd, people deliberately blocked my path pushed me and pulled on my bag. I made it through the main crowd and maybe 3-4 people tried to get in a screaming match with me, but I did my best to ignore them.

From Charles Suggs, Rock Creek, WV

I knew that they weren’t letting anyone else into the hearing, so I stayed on the edge of the crowd, keeping distance between myself and most people.

Three people, who have been calling for the abolition of mountaintop removal, were backed up against the entrance doors by the mob crowd who was shouting many things at them, including death threats. The three started to make their way along the wall, moving left with the doors at their backs. Zoe Beavers and a few others joined them.

I was still around the edge of the crowd, but noticed that things were heating up by the wall to the side of the doors and started that way to see what exactly was happening. A well dressed, plain-clothes officer then came up and told me I had to leave for my safety and the safety of his officers.

Beavers was talking with a school teacher whose husband is a miner. The teacher was yelling and getting the mob more riled up. An officer came over and ordered Beavers to follow him well out of the crowd. He forbade her from re-entering the crowd and said that she’d be arrested and booked for disturbing the peace if she did. The most peaceful people in the crowd were threatened with arrest for disturbing the peace.

Four more people opposed to mountaintop removal arrived after we were escorted out by the police and were also subjected to insults and spitting. One person, who was attempting to leave, was surrounded by shoulder-to-shoulder mountaintop removal supporters who were shouting “You’re not getting out of here.” She couldn’t get out until she yelled for a cop to get her out of there.

Only opponents of mountaintop removal were asked to leave who, despite the shouting and aggression from the mob, remained quite peaceful. And they were asked to leave for disturbing the peace. Some democratic, public hearing that was.

From Vernon Haltom, Co-Director, Coal River Mountain Watch:

I went to the Charleston, WV, hearing hosted by the US Army Corps of Engineers, but was unable to get in and give comments because the place was full. This was after enduring a gauntlet of coal cult thugs hurling every insult imaginable at me and the people who came with me to see and listen. Although a few other people and I were in line and had filled out the registration forms to give comments, the Charleston police made us go out of the building where we were surrounded by more thugs pushing against us, threatening our lives, and again hurling insults. Our group included an eighty-year-old woman enduring 300-pound thugs screaming obscenities within three feet of her ears.

After 15 minutes or so of this shameful display, the Charleston police required us to leave. Because it was easier to control a group of 6 or 7 peaceful people than a mob of hundreds of violence prone thugs, and because the police did not want any of us or the police to get hurt, they escorted us off the premises.

Essentially, police inability to control the mob resulted in our inability to give verbal comments. While the building was full, we were prepared to enter once a few people left, but the police removed us from our place in line and removed us from the premises while the insult-hurlers were allowed to stay.

Our friends inside the hearing were able to give comments, but were drowned out by the mob. When they complained to the hearing moderators, they were told the clock was ticking. When they left, the police refused to escort the last small group to their vehicles, forcing them to run the gauntlet without protection. The police said, “You all knew what you were getting into; youíre on your own,” or a similar reply when asked for escort to cars.

The TV news channels didnít show this side of the night, and no one from the pro-mountain side appeared on TV. Instead, the TV news interviewed coal supporters and implied there was no one from our side giving testimony.

From one of the hearings, news coverage showed one of the Corps of Engineers people saying, essentially, “This is democracy working.” This was not democracy working. It was a mob intimidating both the Charleston police and the US Army, as well as the peaceful citizens who came to give comments to protect their homes, live, and communities.

These are scary times in Appalachia.

4 Responses to “Safety of Dozens of Citizens Threatened at “Public Hearing””

  1. Leon Wood Says:

    NWP #21 and other nationwide permits are essential to the mining industry. The mining industry must comply with 23 different environmental laws and regulations. Permitting of new or expanded operations is taking years to obtain the necessary permits. With more than 250 coal permits backlogged at the COE, some for two years or longer, the Corp proposes to eliminate one regulatory tool explicitly designed to avoid regulatory duplication and unnecessary delays. The Corp has failed to provide a plan for how the agency will handle the increased regulatory burden. The COE is simply not prepared to handle the increased workload that will result should NWP #21 be abandoned. The COE has provided no scientific or environmental justification for eliminating the use of NWP #21. Further, the COE has provided no evidence of environmental damage or other public interest reason for eliminating the use of this permit, therefore, it appears the decision is driven by politics and not based on any concern with environmental protection. These type of decisions have an impact. The KY Coal industry employs over 17,000 miners and generates over 50,000 jobs in other areas of support. Ky exports 73% of its coal, bringing in over $3.5 Billion dollars into KY. Around 85 cents on each dollar stays here – wages, benefits, operating expenses, royalties, and taxes. The KY Coal Industry paid over $270.0 Million in severance taxes in 2008 in addition to the normal business taxes paid by all KY companies. The total revenue generated by the KY Coal Industry in 2007 was $4.9 Billion dollars. Almost 95 percent of the electric power in Kentucky is coal-fire generated. Kentuckyís electric power costs, in the industrial sector, ranked the lowest in the nation for the fourth consecutive year. Kentuckyís industrial power costs are over 15% lower than any other state east of the Mississippi River and over a third lower than the U.S. average. As a result of these low cost electric rates KY is the 4th largest automaker, 3rd largest Aluminum producer, and the 3rd largest Stainless Steel Producer in the US. Coal drives KYís Economic Engine. The Obama Administration promised the American Public to make decisions based on Science. These type of decisions to consider elimination of NWP #21 are not science based they are decisions being made to change our energy policy and make us more dependent on Foreign Energy sources and their leaders. The decisions being made today cannot be made lightly these decisions will determine how and where our children and grandchildren live and what future battlefields they will fight and die on. Surface coal mining our past, present and will continue to be our future.

  2. Cowgirl in ND Says:

    What a bunch of BS! The “police” protect the thugs and make the legitimate citizens leave? What a sick way to “serve and protect”! i wonder how many of these thugs that are “working” would be so interested in their jobs if they were done as their foreworkers performed these jobs, going underground?????? Safer for the environment, not so much for the worker ants. The coal companies are using these thugs until they’re used up and then they will whine and blame their job loss on the very people that are trying so hard to save them and their children by helping them to get safe, clean, green jobs that will far outlast blowing up their world! These non-critically thinking Americans are just what RayGun and the reich wing nuts wanted and thereby created by taking civics out of our schools and teaching only to tests. The result is this; no critical thinking skills and no thought at all to their future! WE HAVE to turn OUR country and OUR education system around!!!

  3. Cowgirl in ND Says:

    One more thing… i forgot to comment on in my previous comment. i believe, just as hate crimes legislation allows for, there is an extreme need in this situation for fed law enforcement to be afforded at these meetings/debates. If the local law enforcement agencies refuse to be and/or can not handle their duties of being, on the side of the abused and threatened by these mobs, then the feds need to step in to be sure that removal of citizenry be the ones who are the abusers not the abused! It is not equitable for a citizen to be removed because they have been accosted, THAT is Un-American to say the least! The accoster is the one commiting a criminal act and thereby should be the one removed by law enforcement…. THAT is the American way: Rule of Law!

  4. nellie Says:

    deranged!

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