Community group leads picket on Greenbrier

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Contacts:
Gabby Gillespie, Campaign Coordinator: 304-438-1339 emilyggillespie@gmail.com
Marley Greeen, Community Organizer: 276-639-6169 green.marley@gmail.com
Community group leads picket on Greenbrier
VA coalfields group sheds light on true cost of Billionaire Coal Baron’s wealth
White Sulphur Springs, WV – Citizens from across the region have joined the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) for a picket being held outside of the Greenbrier Classic PGA Tournament. Billionaire Coal Baron, Jim Justice owns the Greenbrier and operates mountaintop removal mines across Appalachia. The picket is a next step in the Justice to Justice campaign launched by SAMS in Wise County, VA where communities are concerned about water pollution, blasting, air quality and the potential health impacts of Justice’s coal mines.

In Wise County, Virginia, several of Justice’s subsidiaries’ surface mine operations have been threatened with forfeiture of their bonds, due to inadequate reclamation on those operations. For years SAMS has worked to stop the destruction of Ison Rock Ridge, a mountain that sits above the homes of at least 2000 people in the town of Appalachia Virginia. They are asking Jim Justice to abandon the proposed Ison Rock Ridge mountaintop removal mine, and to focus on proper reclamation of existing permits in Virginia.

Citizens of Southwest Virginia are not the only ones with concerns about Jim Justice operations. Justice has been the target of multiple lawsuits and legal actions from community groups, workers and government agencies. Justice is worth an estimated $1.6 billion dollars, however he owes unpaid debts to workers in multiple states and has over $3 million in unpaid fines for safety violations through MSHA. Last week two groups filed a lawsuit against a Justice company in Tennessee for unlawful mining pollution and filed a notice that they intend to file additional lawsuits against other Justice companies in Tennessee for failing to submit water pollution reports for fourteen mines in the state.
“Jim Justice is acting like a deadbeat billionaire, not paying his contractors, not paying regulatory fines, and leaving us with the long term costs of sloppy reclamation on blasted mountains,” said Jane Branham, Vice President of SAMS. “We’re calling on him to remember the communities who’ve given him so much wealth, and to commit to cleaning up his act”.

Over the past several month SAMS members have sent multiple letters to Jim Justice asking for a meeting, including visiting his offices several times and hand delivering over three hundred petitions. A meeting has still not been granted and now SAMS is bringing demands to the Greenbrier to draw attention to Justice’s legacy of leaving devastated communities to pay the price of his irresponsible and destructive business practices. Supporters will hold a candlelight vigil on Thursday at 8:00p.m at White Sulphur Springs to shine a light on Justice’s dirty practices and to stand in solidarity with communities impacted by Justice’s mountaintop removal operations. Learn more about the Justice to Justice campaign at http://www.justicetojustice.com/.
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Federal Highway Administration Requires Full Study of Proposal that Would Rely on Mountaintop Removal

EXPRESSWAY PROJECT TO RECEIVE THOROUGH REVIEW
Federal Highway Administration Requires Full Study of Proposal that Would Rely on Mountaintop Removal

Appalachia, VA — The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has announced that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be required to conduct a full environmental review for a controversial 26-mile section of the Coalfields Expressway that would run through Wise, Dickenson, and Buchanan counties in southwest Virginia. Community groups in southwest Virginia and conservation organizations applaud the decision.

VDOT fundamentally changed the route and the nature of this section of the Coalfields Expressway when it partnered with coal companies to allow mountaintop removal mining as part of the project and failed to prepare a comprehensive analysis of its impacts on the community. The environmental study that FHWA is requiring must evaluate the public health and environmental harms of the proposal and examine a full suite of alternatives.

More than 85,000 citizens sent comments to VDOT and FHWA expressing their concerns about the harm that mountaintop removal mining associated with this project would have on drinking water, community health, and quality of life. Local citizens are also worried that the altered route would eliminate the economic benefits promised to the community because it would bypass local businesses, and the associated impacts from mining would detract from a growing tourism industry.

Three federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also urged FHWA and VDOT to prepare a comprehensive analysis that considers alternatives and evaluates the social, economic and environmental impacts of the mountaintop removal mining which is integral to the project.

“This decision is good news for the people of southwestern Virginia,” said Jane Branham, Vice President of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “We are pleased that FHWA and VDOT will take a hard look at the irresponsible and destructive mining practices that have already hurt our communities and that would be part of this ill-conceived strip mine/highway proposal.”

“We look forward to seeing a thorough review of the environmental consequences of this project, including an analysis of a range of highway alternatives that do not depend on mountaintop removal coal mining,” said Deborah Murray, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The decision-makers must keep in mind the original purpose and need of the project –serving the local communities.”

“VDOT now has the opportunity to take a fresh, honest look at this project,” said Marley Green, a Wise County resident and Sierra Club organizer in Virginia. “We have the chance to figure out the best ways to improve transportation access and diversify our struggling mountain economy.”

“The decision made by Federal Highways is a critical one. Mountaintop removal coal mining has had a devastating impact on communities in southwest Virginia, and now the state will be required to examine this road fully before spending our tax dollars on a deal that only helps coal companies rather than the community,” said Kate Rooth, campaign director with Appalachian Voices. “Now, local business owners, landowners, and citizens whose clean drinking water would be impacted can help VDOT design a project to truly benefit Central Appalachia.”

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Justice to Jim Justice! First Petition Delivery

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Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and supporters from across the region deliver over 300 petitions asking Jim Justice to clean up his act.

SAMS hand delivered a set of 300 petitions on Wednesday, gathered since launching their website, www.JusticetoJustice.com, in May. SAMS members were joined by residents of three other states where Jim Justice subsidiaries are impacting water quality and public health; West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

 

“This is our first petition delivery, and we’ll continue to take action until we get a clear commitment from Jim Justice . We want to be  sure that he’s ready to be a good neighbor to these towns whose work and resources have contributed to his growing wealth. He pockets the profits while these communities are left to deal with the consequences.” said Gabby Gillespie, campaign coordinator with SAMS.

 

SAMS launched the Justice to Justice campaign in early May, which demands that the coal baron cleans up his mess, pays off his debts, and stops poisoning water. In April, SAMS sent a letter requesting a meeting with Mr. Justice to address impacts to downstream communities by companies owned by him. Still a meeting has not been granted, after citizens hand delivered a letter to Southern Coal’s Roanoke offices, the parent company of A&G requesting a meeting to the Southern Coal Headquarters in Roanoke, VA.

 

“Jim Justice is acting like a deadbeat billionaire, not paying his contractors, not paying regulatory fines, and leaving us with the long term costs of sloppy reclamation on blasted mountains,” said Jane Branham, Vice President of SAMS. “We’re calling on him to remember the communities who’ve given him so much wealth, and to commit to cleaning up his act”.

 

SAMS has begun to gather petitions in support of their demands and delivered a first batch this morning to the corporate office of A&G in Wise, VA. In conjunction with citizens groups across the region they plan to use public scrutiny, permit research and citizen oversight of mining operations to bring J. Justice to the table to discuss their demands. The petition states: We call on Jim Justice to act like the good neighbor he claims to be, and commit to supporting a bright, healthy future, a diverse economy, and fair treatment of workers across Central Appalachia.

 

The Justice to Justice campaign also calls on customers of Justice affiliated companies, contractors working with him, and other institutions associated with Jim Justice to boycott his operations until he commits to ending the destruction of our communities and cleans up his messes.
SAMS is encouraging people who have been affected by Jim Justice’s operations to share their stories, anonymously or not, at www.JusticeToJustice.com. The website is also a hub for learning about Justice subsidiaries and the costs he’s leaving coalfield communities to bear.

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Groups Seek Protection of Virginia Waterways from Mining Pollution

Today, citizen and environmental groups filed suit in federal court arguing that four mines owned by the Red River Coal Company are violating legal pollution levels. The state of Virginia previously determined that the South Fork Pound River, which receives the pollution from these mines, does not adequately support aquatic life. To protect the streams, Virginia imposed a “Total Maximum Daily Load” (TMDL) for mining pollutants that harm aquatic life including total dissolved solids and total suspended solids. The groups found that Red River is violating the conditions in its mines’ permits that require compliance with the TMDL.

“These mountain streams in southwest Virginia were once known for their purity and served as a habitat for diverse species of aquatic life, but mining pollution’s changed that,” said Jane Branham of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “It is shameful that citizens must take action to address this issue, but with the failure of the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy to oversee and enforce laws that protect our waterways, we are left with no other choice.”

“This case highlights the failure of state regulators to stop the damaging pollution from mountaintop removal mines in our state, even after they’ve recognized the harm that pollution is causing,” said Glen Besa, Virginia Director of the Sierra Club. “Coal companies cannot police themselves and the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy is no help, so we feel compelled to take action in order to protect our precious streams and rivers from mining pollution.”

TMDL’s are essentially the last line of defense against mountaintop removal mining pollution. Mountaintop removal mines generate high levels of total dissolved solids, which is often measured as conductivity. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has conducted scientific studies that found “high levels of conductivity, dissolved solids, and sulfates are a primary cause of water quality impairments” downstream from valley fills and other mining operations.

“Every coal mine in Virginia has to get a state permit that limits the pollution it is allowed to release, but still, many streams below these mines are unsafe to fish in or swim in,” said Eric Chance, water quality specialist for Appalachian Voices. “Unfortunately, it takes lawsuits like this one to get the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy to do its job and enforce existing laws that were created to protect the health of people and streams.”

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