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.

“We Aren’t Merchants” Dancing Around the Collapsing Edges of Industrial Civilization by Michael Donnelley on

Michael Donnelly’s pithy report on about the 32nd Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, aka E-LAW.


“It has never been our job to create solutions to these environmental problems, and we were never very good at it anyway. Why, in 1986 I spent four months in jail for demanding scrubbers for coal fired power plants, the very scrubbers responsible for these mountains of coal ash all over the place. There are plenty of people who want to propose alternatives, but most of them simply want to preserve the level of comfort they now enjoy. The environmental movement has lost its voice in this crowd. Boldness has vanished, truth is hidden and we seem to be moving about like ducks in a pen when a hawk flies over. The only possible solutions, and we all know this, involve sacrifice. That is a hard sell, but then again we are not merchants”

— Mike Roselle, Climate Ground Zero

Kim and I rode our bikes in the rain over to the Student Union building; locked them along with the hundreds of other bikes clogging the racks. We went to the stairway to the Ballroom where the Keynote Speaker presentation was about to happen. We were intercepted and told we had to check our packs to gain entry. I wanted to get some photos, so we balked. Kim knew the back stairs and elevator entrances to the second floor ballroom, so we checked them out as a way to gain entry with my camera. At every door, stair and elevator, there were “No Entry” signs and a guard. Outside on the rooftop, there were guards; as if someone was going to rappel down to the balcony and crash through the windows a la Bruce Willis.

Who was I hoping to photograph speaking? Henry Kissinger? Angelina Jolie? No, it was Lierre Keith of the group Deep Green Resistance (DGR) who was about to speak. Her appearance was being hotly protested by a loose-knit group of green transsexuals and their supporters who set up a wet vigil outside. The cult-like DGR has been relentless in denouncing male-to-female trans women. DGR claims to be “Radical Feminists” and that Genitalia is Destiny – that being born with a penis somehow locks one in the Man Box and men just can’t help themselves from being dicks – a bit of misandry insulting to all men. But that’s their reasoning behind their exclusionary view that male-to-female women just aren’t welcome in activist circles. While I don’t want to give this bizarre distraction much more energy, both sides’ arguments can be seen here: and, here.

The setting is the 32nd Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, commonly known as E-LAW. This year’s conference – themed “Running into Running Out” – got off to this surreal start and just kept getting weirder given our existential crisis and the fact that this, the first such conference, started as a place where grassroots activists rubbed up with policy wonks, attorneys, laws students, scientists, bureaucrats…to examine the state of the planet and what was being done about it and who as doing it. Of course, a major part of it was/is always employment opportunities for graduating baby lawyers.

As portrayed in John Sayles short story The Anarchists’ Convention, it’s a truism that if you assemble a lot of activists; activism – often silly – will occur. That still happens at E-LAW, but on a far more minor scale. Some of what passed for this year’s actions were decidedly lame – like the ossified non-profit Oregon Wild (Mild) organizing a forty-person march to the Eugene branch offices of Rep. Peter DeFazio and Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley – all (D-Big Timber) – to protest their recent Bills that greatly expand logging on Public lands in Oregon under the rubric of using chainsaws to remove Biomass and that somehow will bring the forests to better “health.” These are the very same offices where Oregon Mild first met with the same phony “progressive” career politicians to sell the concept of “Restoration Forestry” – THE “Forest Health” justification for the timber plans the same “activists,” err, paid staffers now oppose. The politicians were thousands of miles away, a la Obama during’s mortifying invite-only White House Feb. 2013 “our Lunch Counter Moment” vanity protest.  (The main protest activism was Anti-Nuclear this year. I’ll get into that later.)

The Consumption Elephant, err, Mammoth in the Room


Let’s get back to this year’s theme: “Running into Running Out.” Perhaps the first clue that this wasn’t going to lead to what I thought it would was that the hourglass used as logo with the theme was upside-down – 95% of the sand was still in the top chamber.

I perused the agenda for panels and Keynote addresses on just what strategies and sacrifices we were going to have to commit to in order to effectively address that “Running Out.” Out of 138 panels, just one was on Population and Consumption – the underlying cause of it all: “Advocacy in the Anthropocene: How to Talk about Population to Save the Environment.” The excellent presentation was organized by the Center for Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Population and Sustainability wing. And, there is no denying just how needed their population program is, especially when the other big greens studiously avoid this elephant. CBD has given away over 500,000 condoms tying it directly to species conservation, using info on the packaging to sell the link. Alan Weisman, author of the fine thought experiment book “The World without Us” was on the panel. His new book “Countdown” examines population reduction efforts around the world. (The shocker? Iran has achieved a birth rate lower than replacement…due to religious edicts, however.) Stephanie Feldstein, CBD’s Population and Sustainability Director, took on Consumption, noting that if all 7.2 billion Clever Apes lived the same life-style as the typical North American, we’d need 4.5 Earth’s worth of resources.

{Though the organization has many very good people doing very worthy work like this, I have never been a fan of CBD, ever since they were one of the collaborating groups behind the flawed Restoration/Forest Health model and how they demeaned others (yes, myself included) who opposed the concept from the beginning. I also take issue with CBD’s non-democratic/no voting membership closely-held corporate organizational model. While PIELC prefers that nomenclature over E-LAW, CBD staffers hubristically self-reference as “The Center.”}

One panel was on “Federal Forest Litigation in the Context of Collaboration” and another one was “New Science on Fire, Water and Forests” which looked into how the actual results of Collaborative Restoration Forestry’s chainsaw surgery does far more harm than good for forest ecosystems. As with Oregon Wild, no groundswell of grassroots membership ever directed any of these groups to “collaborate” with industrial forestry on yet another excuse for stump-creation. That directive came directly from their funders and Democrat Party allies. That hoodwinked CBD, like duped Oregon Wild, is also now opposing huge Southwest timber sales that the Forest Service claims are based on Restoration precepts bodes well. (Though it does remind me of when the 1940s Vichy French “collaborators” whined when the Nazis arrested 11 of their top leaders AFTER said leaders had “collaborated” and sent 65,000 Jews to Germany.)

Anything at all, but Sacrifice

I heard a lot over the weekend on what’s wrong. Yet, every “solution” I heard proposed all weekend was as bad, or worse, as the one I heard before it. Trees converted to jet fuel!!; Nukes, small-scale Nukes, Carbon fees and dividends, Sabotage, Forest Health/Restoration logging “collaborations,” Cascadian Secession, Socially Responsible Investing, all sorts of minor policy tweaks, “We the People against Corporate Personhood,” multiple panels on “Crushing Patriarchy” “Misogyny & Ecocide,” Revolution,…it was surreal. Cascadian Secession was the sole pipedream “solution” I could get behind, though there may be hope for yet another Teamsters and Turtles coalition with labor.

Yet, there was nothing at all about sacrifice…about drastic reductions in consumption. NOTHING!

Also conspicuously missing were presentations on the on-going poisoning of Appalachia for coal, though Appalachian-based Mountain Justice did have an info table amongst the hallways lined with group presentations. Being the West Coast, coal issues addressed were about mining coal in Wyoming and sending it overseas to China and other nations via rail and barge hauling to export docks; and the shipping and building of such dock facilities were focused on.

Mike Roselle of Climate Ground Zero was supposed to come and get recognition for CGZ. But, Mike was scheduled to be arraigned in West “by coal” Virginia on the 3rd for his Thanksgiving Day taking of a sealed jar of toxic coal-blasting dust to the Governor and demanding it be tested. He was arrested and jailed for it and awaits trial; which is being pushed back, understandably, by the authorities given the unending toxic news from WV of late.

Deadly Energy

Of course, the main indicators that we are “Running Out” of time is Carbon Pollution and resultant Climate Chaos and Extinctions. So, also of course, one would expect that that and strategies on how to combat it would be THE major focus of the conference and indeed a large presence was climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, who appeared on various panels and gave a Keynote address.

I arrived early for his first panel “Merging Climate Science with the Law and Communication” figuring it’d be packed. It was. Anti-nuke activists were handing out info at the doors on Hansen’s pro-Nukes position.

A very good reporter for the good local Eugene Weekly asked what she should ask Hansen a few days ago before he arrived. I asked her in the hall before the panel if she had asked my question “what is your personal carbon footprint and where does it come from?”

In a great irony, after flying into Beijing, Hansen was hospitalized in China two days before flying to PIELC due to foul air quality and couldn’t respond to any of her list of questions!

Hansen delved into the science and then trotted out a cockamamie “solution” he and fellow scientists (and funders, no doubt) concocted. It would have a Carbon Fee collected on carbon at its source. Some sort of new bureaucracy would be set up to collect the fees and instead of the fees going into the Federal Treasury; they would then be redistributed as Dividends to consumers. This preposterously unworkable idea then purports to be the driver behind lowering carbon use and pollution; so much so that the increase in planetary temperature would be then kept below 1.5 degrees Centigrade before 2080, instead of a more disastrous 2 degrees or more.

It wasn’t long before the crowd got dazed and confused by that line of thought and someone brought up Nukes. Hansen responded with “No one has ever died from a nuclear accident.”

“That’s not true” rang out from the crowd and it was on. The rest of the time was a debate on the merits of Nukes. Hansen noted that “one million people die from coal in China every year.” Others countered with deaths from radiation.

As soon as the panel ended, a group of his questioners approached Hansen and started in on the topic. I went up to get a photo. As I snapped the shot, Hansen told the stunned group, ”More people have died installing solar panels on roofs than have died in nuclear accidents.”

One wag said, “I’ve said it all along; this is the epicenter of Greenwashing in North America this weekend.”
Dr. James Hansen tells a group of mind-blown anti-Nukes activists, “More people have died installing solar panels on roofs than have died in nuclear accidents.” That’s Oregon hero Lloyd Marbet in the plaid shirt. And, Chuck Johnson is next to him. They doggedly/successfully fought for the end of the Trojan Nuke Plant. 

False Solutions squared

Mind blown myself, I rode off to another part of campus to attend a panel with a title right up my alley: “False Solutions: The Flaws of Green Energy.” Two guys from something called the Fertile Ground Environmental Institute had the facts down as to how “Renewable” Energy is really reconstituted fossil fuel and , thus, more inefficient than just burning the fossil fuel for electrons in the first place. They examined the vast amounts of coal that go into making solar panels, wind towers, steel, cement, etc. They had photos of massive mines, including the huge Rare Earth metals mine in China that provides batteries/magnets for 80% of our iPhones, iPads, wind power generators, Pius batteries, etc. – the basis for this form of industrial energy. They claimed that 1.2 million Tibetans have died in the forced labor (slavery) of the mines – 20% of all Tibetans alive! (Yes. I’m checking into that.)

I’ve been waiting for a solid analysis of “Renewable Energy” and this was the first time I’ve seen such a panel discussion on it at a green event. Even with massive subsidies to wind and solar, these provide fewer than 2% of overall power in the US grid and even that is unusable without base-load steam-generated power – coal, nukes, Biomass or natural gas. What really passes for “renewable” under the odious “25 x 25 renewable portfolio” plans adopted by most states is Biomass – the burning of trees for electrons. Getting those trees to the steam plants is the real underlying purpose of the many new logging plans that Oregon Wild and others now oppose.

As my buddy Jeff notes, “And since 90% of “clean energy” is the biomassacre, every time I hear someone want to deal with “climate” I hear the march of the bio-suicides: Bio-char, bio-mass, bio-fuel.  Therefore, I despair every time I hear anyone talking about climate, because I see it as a symbol of the environmental movement, if there ever really was one, having lost its mind, and its way, and only being comfortable with nothing that will make any difference at all, as intended.

Right now from Michigan to Vermont to Wisconsin to California THAT is the suicide of the planet being most ramped up, and despite the lies of those pushing renewable energy, is going to double, triple, ten times more as we promote “getting off fossil fuels” to save the climate; thereby assassinating nature in the name of green.

So for me, when I hear “climate” concern, I hear the trees and orangutans and tigers and wolves and life I love being slaughtered even faster.  The planet and the climate are being destroyed even faster in the name of preventing climate change.”

Sabotage, then what?

Well, the False Solutions panel devolved quickly enough. Admitting their ties to DGR, the panelists then trotted out their “solution.” It was Sabotage! Take down the grid! They praised efforts that have damaged the grid and other energy supply routes. No talk at all of how, if that succeeded, then what? As the Population and Consumption panel noted; 60% of our food is grown with natural gas-derived fertilizers, it’s delivered via fossil fuels…cutting off fossil fuels cold turkey means genocide. The great irony of Industrial Civilization is that we cannot live much longer with it and billions cannot/will not live without it.

Best Things about PIELC

There has always been a commitment to Indigenous Peoples at E-LAW. The UofO Student Longhouse is right behind the Law School and a full slate of activities happen there during the conference. In addition to the annual honoring of elders; this year, most of it was about the 1000 Yellowstone Buffalo that are being killed right now – over 300 already down.

Native people from around the world always are given Keynote slots to present their plight. E-LAW sets out how to interact with Native people, especially revered elders, in the brochure. The event is quite multi-cultural. I see more people in traditional clothing than I see all year combined.

Ecological Social Justice is always on the agenda.

Upon registration, people are asked about how they traveled to the conference in an attempt to calculate the event’s carbon footprint. Paper coffee cups are banned.

Activists attend for free. Lawyers pay a fee.

Gender balance on panels is a goal.

Best Things this Year

The top event for me was the honoring of my friend, the great activist attorney Lauren Regan and her superb, skilled group – the Civil Liberties Defense Center on CLDC’s Tenth Anniversary. In those ten years, CLDC has represented 900 activists of all causes, though mainly Native and Eco-activists, for free. Lauren and her allies are indispensible to the movements. CLDC is my top activist group…they are my “The Center!”

Regan is also part of a new effort – the Global Climate Convergence, which is another Teamsters and Turtles attempt to ally Greens and Labor in conservation and social justice efforts. She, 2012 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, sociologist Dr. Jamil Jonna and labor organizer Richard Monje made several presentations on GCC. After the Teamsters and Turtles experience, no one could blame Eco-activists for being shy about any new such efforts – it foundered when the “Teamsters” felt the need to cut the trees for jobs when the “Turtles” sought to protect them for habitat.

This time I have some hope. Monje isn’t some Pollyanna and Regan and Jonna certainly are not; and Stein impresses me more and more. Monje knows full well the tough sell on either end. He’s a veteran of the bi-lingual education efforts and citizen safety campaigns in his native East LA neighborhood. He was shot by the police at an anti-Vietnam War protest. As someone who grew up in Flint, MI and joined the UAW and worked for GM starting at age 18 and who later worked in NW lumber mills before becoming a forest protection advocate, this effort strikes close to home with me.

Regan gave a lunch Keynote and noted Population and Consumption as a root cause of every issue being addressed at the conference. And, then at the end of Saturday, after Hansen gave a stodgy Keynote address, Prof. Mary Wood of the Law School, followed and gave the long-awaited speech that finally seriously addressed Consumption.

Another, more inclusive group organized a Trans and Womyn’s Action Camp and made a presentation at the conference about it.

Dancing on the Ruins of Industrial Civilization

Speaking of Industrial Civilization, the annual Earth First! OutLAW Party was held in a run-down warehouse district, outdoors, in the rain amongst a vast array of the debris of industry. The bands were quite good this year. The rain never stopped. Mud and cracked cement was the dance floor. The traditional effigy burn went well and even the ten-person naked pyramid next to the fire held up…the big guys on the bottom getting only a little muddy.

But as I looked around the 250-person crowd, I saw but a couple dozen of the “old guard.” It was a passing of the torch, so to speak, event this year, as long-time EF! pyro master Mick Garvin is recovering from yet another eye operation and wasn’t in attendance.

Mick recently came up with a proposal to hold an Earth First! Rendezvous in an abandoned Detroit factory and actually dance on said ruins (and to lend support to the many young urban pioneers now resettling Detroit.)

As David Brower used to say, the real action at these events takes place in the halls and bars and any effective actions that come out of it are concocted there – the camaraderie is one of the best, if not the best, part of it.

Where DO We Go from Here?

One activist declared that despite all the distractions and buffoonery, “at least they are talking about the Climate Crisis.” It’s a start.

As Mike Roselle points out, we aren’t merchants and our job is not to sell windmills (or Nukes, rare earth-derived solar panels or “Forest Health” logging schemes)…it is to lower our planet-destroying habits – to Power Down this Industrial experiment and People Down before it’s too late. Our job is to resist extinctions caused by 7.2 billion Clever Apes consuming the life support system. It’s how to provide for Gaia to carry on with Her full complement of species.  It’s how to humanely get the population of us primates down to a number that begins with an “M,” not a “B,” so that those other species – and ultimately we – can thrive in harmony with this beautiful, magical planet we are blessed to occupy.

THIS is what Running into Running Out really means. We may already be beyond the critical tipping points. 600 species went extinct over the course of the conference! Ignoring consumption and focusing on techno-policy tweaks around the edges and an array of false “solutions” may well provide full employment for Eco-attorneys and Eco-collaborators…but not for long.

MICHAEL DONNELLY has attended 30 E-LAW Conferences. He has presented panels on activism and forest protection over the years. He was Plaintiff in the first successful Old Growth lawsuit. He can be reached at




Due to dangerous travel conditions on West Virginia’s notorious Route 3, we have
motioned to continue in State of West Virginia vs Roselle. We will announce the
new date as soon as we are notified by the court. Stay tuned, as at that time we
will have a set date for a jury trial in Charleston, possibly in April. Given
that my Nov. 25th arrest for delivering a sample of toxic mining waste was
followed in January by Freedom Industries chemical spill that continues to
poison the tap water of everyone in Charleston, jury selection should be worth
the trip. We will be planning a Spring celebration and work party here on the
Ford Addition. For those of you who have expressed an interest in visiting Rock
Creek, this would be a good time to come on by.