Beauty vs. The Beast

by Cat Dees 

We gathered in the mid-morning:  four mountaintop removal activists venturing out for a tour of the 2,000 acre permit request in Rock Creek proposed for blasting.   The haze had not yet burned off as we took the Jeep and headed up Rock Creek toward the top of the mountain.  We passed homes both great and small, some with gardens, chickens, dogs, chain link fences, and residents mowing and weed eating.  Soon the homes became farther apart and we rounded the corner at Workman’s Creek.

Stopping frequently for photographs, we navigated the bumpy, rock-and-boulder-strewn dirt roads — quite a difference from the freshly paved county road that lead up into the residential neighborhood and then ended abruptly.  The hardwoods were full and lush and flowers bloomed wherever the light hit the forest floor.  Finally, we began to see gas pipes along the dirt road along with several pumping stations.  And, when we stopped at a peak, we could see across the valley toward Kayford Mountain.

No sooner had we exited the Jeep when Ed said, “Look there!”  He pointed to the right side of the view of the  strip mine operation where a white cloud ascended from the ground operation.  The haze was still making things fuzzy, but the cloud was clear enough to make out.

We didn’t hear a boom.  And it was much too early for the afternoon blast signifying explosive mountaintop removal, blowing chunks of coal, dust, heavy metals, toxic compounds, sequestered carbon, and everything else within the blast site skyward to rain down on the community — both human and wild.

The evidence of Big Coal’s extraction appears in stark contrast to the green, lush mountains:  absent ridges, valleys, or contour, these are massive scars on the stumps of mountains, ugly, uninhabitable, unthinkable.  Just for coal?  So much destruction for $100 per ton?

The beauty, the biological diversity, the recreational opportunities, the very soul of Appalachia are all crumbling away.

These photographs depict what is still beautiful and intact, as well as what is being destroyed on a daily basis on the last mountains standing.  See what we see and share what we know about the devastating effect of mountaintop removal.  Pay particular attention to the blight upon these once thriving mountains and learn more about how you can help Climate Ground Zero end mountaintop removal.


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The Beast

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Cat Dees, Rock Creek

One State, under Coal by Jeffrey St. Clair

Latest online article in the Ecologist about Mike Roselle, Climate Ground Zero’s Director. The piece is about the state of mountain top removal coal mining, the politics of West Virginia’s coal apologists, and just why Roselle delivered blasting dust debris to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s mansion in Charleston on Thanksgiving last year.  Then,  just a few weeks later, Freedom Industries rusty, leaking chemical tank of MCHM leached  into the Elk River, contaminating the downriver water supply of 300,000 residents of Charleston, after being “filtered” by American Water’s treatment plant.

Courtesy of

Photographs by Mike Cherin

When Mike Roselle tried to give his State Governor a sample of Mountain Top Removal dust for analysis, he was not expecting to be arrested at gunpoint and banged in jail for a week on suicide watch – all without charge.

A few seconds after he rang the doorbell, Roselle was surrounded by a dozen State Police officers, guns drawn.

A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving Mike Roselle decided he’d had enough.

Enough of the toxic dust in the air. Enough of the constant blasting that rattles his small house.

Enough of the poisoned well-water. Enough of the chopped mountains and buried streams. Enough of the forests, playgrounds and cemeteries plowed under for one more suppurating coal mine. Enough of seeing his friends sicken and die in the West Virginia county that has the highest mortality rate in the United States.

A straightforward mission

That November morning Roselle, the John Brown of the environmental movement, took a drive with his friend James McGuinnis up roads washboarded by the ceaseless transit of coal trucks to Kayford Mountain.

What used to be a mountain, anyway. Much of that ancient Appalachian hump has been stripped, blasted and gouged away by the barbarous mining method called Mountaintop Removal. Roselle’s mission was straightforward.

He aimed to collect some of the dust, the pulverized guts of the mountain, that showers down on the nearby towns and villages, streams and lakes, day after day, like deadly splinters from the sky.

Roselle scooped up a few pounds of that lethal dirt in a couple of Mason jars. He wanted to have the debris tested. He wanted to know what toxins it contained. Lead, probably. Arsenic, perhaps. Mercury? Who really knew. The mining companies weren’t saying. Neither was the EPA.

Photo by Mike Cherin
Collecting blasting dust debris for testing.                                Photo by Mike Cherin

A dutiful servant – of Big Coal

Roselle got it into his head to take the mining dust to the one person in the state who might be able to give him some answers, to assure the folks who live under the desolated shadow of Kayford Mountain that there was no cause for alarm – the man who was charged with protecting the citizens of West Virginia from harm, the Solon of the Monongahela, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

On Thanksgiving morning, Roselle went to Charleston with his jar of dust. He walked right up to the Governor’s mansion and rang the doorbell.

At the Governor's Mansion.  Photo by Mike Cherin
At the Governor’s Mansion. Photo by Mike Cherin


Earl Ray is what you might call a lifelong politician. A Democrat, Tomblin was elected to the West Virginia senate fresh out of college in 1974. He was 22 at the time and has held elected office ever since. Across those four decades, Earl Ray has been a dutiful servant of Big Coal.

Every time a coal mine caved in, a waste dam breached, or an explosion of coal gases maimed and killed some miners, Tomblin would be there to offer his comfort. Consolation to the afflicted coal executives, that is.

Tomblin has raged against the ‘war on coal’. His administration has repeatedly sued the EPA on behalf of coal companies, citing its “ideologically driven, job-killing agenda”. And he has assured the mountain people of West Virginia that the coal dust fog that shrouds their communities is safe to breathe, eat or drink.

An unexpected turn of events

Then Mike Roselle showed up on Tomblin’s doorstep to make the governor prove it.  Roselle didn’t expect to see Tomblin that morning, so he’d slipped a note inside the jar asking the governor to test the dust and report back to him on what it contained.

But a few seconds after he rang the doorbell, Roselle was surrounded by a dozen State Police officers, guns drawn. Roselle was immediately arrested, hustled into a waiting police car. He was not told why, apparently because the cops couldn’t find a section of the state code that Roselle had transgressed.

They drove him to jail anyway, saying simply they “had orders to bring him in.” Orders from whom, they didn’t say.

Over course of the next six days Roselle was kept jailed without charges, including three days inside the Hole, the disciplinary unit. Why? Because Roselle had refused food until they could inform him of the charges against him.

Later he was transferred again, this time into a glass-enclosure, the suicide watch room, where he was forced to wear an orange medical gown for two days. Then, suddenly, he was released on a mere signature bond.

Whose freedom?

A few weeks after Roselle walked out of that Charleston jail, a storage tank at a chemical ‘farm’ owned by Freedom Industries ruptured.

Out of a one-inch hole in a white stainless steel tank, a stream of a licorice-smelling crude began pouring onto the ground and into the nearby Elk River and downstream directly into American Water’s intake and distribution center – the primary drinking water source for the Charleston metropolitan area.

The chemical that contaminated Charleston’s water supply, forcing 300,000 to go without drinking water, was a compound called MCHM – 4-methylcyclohexylmethanol.

It’s used in the processing of coal and another  highly toxic compound marketed under the name of Talon, which is manufactured by Georgia-Pacific, a company owned by the Koch Brothers.

Authorities not alerted

Freedom Industries discovered the leak early in the morning of January 9th, but never alerted state authorities or the water company. Hours passed before any attempt was made to stem the flow of the chemical into the Elk River. In that time, more than 125 people were sickened by drinking fouled water and sought treatment at area hospitals.

The fiancée of one of Freedom Industries’ top executives claimed that the illnesses were probably induced by the media. She said that she’d showered and brushed her teeth with the contaminated water and was “feeling just fine.”

As for Governor Tomblin, he took pains to reassure the people of West Virginia the spill that had fouled the Elk and Kanawa Rivers had absolutely nothing to do with the coal industry:

“This was not a coal company incident. This was a chemical company incident. As far as I know there was no coal company within miles.”

Selective unawareness

Apparently, Tomblin was unaware of the fact that nearly all of Freedom Industries’ contracts were with the state’s coal industry.

Nor that one of the company’s top executives, J. Clifford Forrest, is also the president of Rosebud Mining, a Pennsylvania coal mining company – which was recently sued for illegally giving advance warnings to mine managers of impending safety inspections by regulators.

On the afternoon of the Elk River spill, state legislators were meant to convene in the capitol building for a special session geared at passing a resolution denouncing the ‘war on coal’.

But the statehouse was evacuated before the great debate could take place, with lawmakers scrambling out the exits, coats over their heads, in a vain attempt to shield their lungs from the sickly-sweet smell of MCHM.

And to this day no one in West Virginia is quite sure whatever happened to Mike Roselle’s jar of dust.



Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of NatureGrand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He is on the board of the Fund for Wild Nature. He can be reached at:

This article was originally published on Counterpunch.

URGENT Action Alert — Contact Governor Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to ask for Climate Ground Zero Director Mike Roselle’s immediate release from jail and that the sample of dust collected from a mountain top blasting site be analyzed by WV DEP — URGENT Action Alert

Recap of Climate Ground Zero action that put Mike Roselle in jail these last four days since Thanksgiving.

The vigil began on Monday  November 24 on the steps of West Virginia’s State Capitol, Charleston.  Climate Ground Zero activists laid a banner that read “Mountain Blasting Kills” on the steps to the Liberty Bell replica and placed two containers of  dust, coal, shale, and toxic residue spoils left behind on the stumps of mountains blasted by the coal companies.

The point was that the spoils they carried from mountain top removal rampages were callously and illegally left behind,  the residues of blasting powder to infiltrate the  soil, water,  food, property, businesses, schools — the very air breathed every moment of every day — in Appalachia.  Specifically, the three brought the dust collected to hand over to the lawmakers  and to the WV Department of Environmental Protection for analysis.  They stood vigil quietly for four days in the cold and snow to hand over the toxic samples they had gathered for  the WV DEP for analysis and proof to state lawmakers as evidence that the Coal companies are violating federal and state laws.

On Thursday November 28, instead of celebrating Thanksgiving at home in Rock Creek, West Virginia, Mike Roselle (ironically choosing to fast for the duration of the action), Guin McGuinnes, and Mike Cherin held fast as they continued to wait patiently to hand deliver the dust to state officials.  Thursday afternoon, the activists moved their vigil to the publicly owned and maintained Governor’s mansion, hoping to present the samples to him at home, or at least to leave the substance on his doorstep.  Upon pressing the door bell, Roselle engaged in a brief description by intercom about why they were there with a voice from inside the mansion who said someone would be with him shortly.

Indeed, a capitol security official and then police officers were with them shortly, told Roselle to pick up the jar on the doorstep and take it away.  After coming all this way with the sample for the state lawmakers, scientists, and now the governor, Roselle refused to pick up the jar, and said he was not going to take the dust back to Rock Creek, whereupon he was arrested.

The charges are disorderly conduct (he never raised his voice and behaved in a civil and soft-spoken manner) and trespass (there is no gate or guard at the entrance to the governor’s mansion and he did not refuse to leave).  Bail was set at $20,000 ($10,000 for each exaggerated charge).  In addition, counsel has been refused access to his client — an egregious violation of Roselle’s civil rights.

Now, everyone who lives in Appalachia knows that more than six million tons of ammonium nitrate diesel fuel explosives are detonated six days each week to extract an infinitely modest amount of coal as mountain tops are blasted away.  When the dust settles, it contains everything from  mercury, lead, arsenic, various heavy metals, polyaromatichydrocarbons, pulverized silica , partially combusted coal and shale, and even radiation.  They can only hope that justice will be done and the coal companies will be forced to stop mountain top blasting and threatening the health of each and every resident in the communities affected by toxic coal dust raining down on them from the blasts.

It is time for mountaintop removal to end.  The onus is upon the state government to mandate that the coal companies cease and desist blasting mountains, poisoning people, air, water, soil, wildlife and destroying the quality of life for every person in Appalachia.

Please contact WV governor and tell him that Mike Roselle should be released immediately, that he speaks for the people, that he must direct WVDEP to analyze the sample,  and that the heavily sponsored ACHE Act (HR526, the  Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act) can end mountaintop removal and will save countless lives when passed.

Contact Governor Earl Ray Tomblin

Governor’s Mansion:
(304) 558-3588

Contact Address:
Office of the Governor
State Capitol
1900 Kanawha Boulevard, East
Charleston, West Virginia 25305

Office Telephone:
(304) 558-2000 or 1-888-438-2731

Twitter:  @GovTomblin

Sample letter:

Dear Governor Earl Ray Tomblin,

I  am writing on behalf of Mike Roselle and Climate Ground Zero, who is being held in jail on trumped up charges of trespass and disorderly conduct for simply trying to deliver a sample of the toxic dust left behind from mountain top removal blasting by coal companies.   Bail was assigned at $20,000, a ludicrous $10,000 for each erroneous charge.  I ask that you immediately direct that he be released from jail.  Everyone has seen the video footage of his arrest and he was quite orderly, polite, soft-spoken, civil and forthright in his request.  There is no gate or guard post at the governor’s mansion and Mr. Roselle was not trespassing.

In addition, I request that you direct the DEP to test the dust samples delivered by Mr. Roselle for analysis.  Furthermore, they should be directed send a sample to an independent testing facility to analyze the dust.  Climate Ground Zero states that upwards of 20 published, peer-reviewed, scientific, professional papers have all concluded that the blasting carried out by the coal companies is a health hazard for lung and other diseases, cancer, birth defects, and shortened life expectancy.

Finally, I urge you to get behind the heavily sponsored ACHE Act (HR526, the  Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act) which can end mountaintop removal and will save countless lives when passed.

Thank you,

[Your name]

You are invited to cut and paste this letter into the “your comments” section at the bottom of the page,  or write one of your own in your own words, and/or call.  It is important to contact the governor to demand Climate Ground Zero director Mike Roselle’s immediate release.  Thank you for helping the people of the Appalachians.

Other ways to help:

Call the West Virginia Regional State Jail,  1001 Centre Way, Charleston, WV 25309-1001


Call or contact the WV EPA:

PHONE (304) 926-0499

FAX (304) 926-0458