By Skyler Simmons, Southern Appalachians EF! Newswire Correspondent
It has been a long, hard fight but residents of the small coalfields town of Appalachia, VA can breathe a little easier after the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME) for the second time rejected a mountaintop removal mine permit for Ison Rock Ridge. The massive strip mine, proposed by A&G Coal would have leveled over 1000 acres of Ison Rock Ridge and filled in four valleys on the outskirts of Appalachia and Inman.
“I am so pleased to finally see the DMME stand up for the people they are supposed to represent,” said Sam Broach, president of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS). “The people living in the areas affected by surface mining can sleep well tonight knowing that the mountains above them won’t be blown up, and the air they breathe will be a little bit cleaner.”
SAMS, along with the Sierra Club and Blue Ridge Earth First! fought the DMME for years to stop the permitting of new MTR sites in this isolated corner of Virginia with little success. It appears that their years of community organizing, protests, and direct action are finally paying off with the rejection of the Ison Rock Ridge Permit.
Local resident Adam Hooper expressed his appreciation for the DMME’s decision, saying “I grew up in the mountains around Inman. This decision to finally end this permit application is the best decision for our community, and the best news the people in Appalachia have had in a long time. No one should be asked to sacrifice their health, water quality, and the beauty of their surroundings for a handful of temporary jobs.”
For years the prospect of a new mountaintop removal mine, with increased blasting, dust, truck traffic and sedimentation of the streams has hung over the town of Appalachia like a black cloud. The four valley fills proposed for the operation threatened to bury headwater streams and increase concentrations of toxic pollutants in streams like Callahan Creek, which is already legally recognized as impaired. Such pollution is especially dangerous for women and young children, and more than 20 peer-reviewed studies since 2010 have shown a connection between proximity to mountaintop removal operations like Ison Rock Ridge and poor health outcomes, including higher cancer, heart, lung, and kidney disease rates.
This is not the first time that A&G coal has managed to stir up controversy in Appalachia. In 2004 a boulder that was dislodged from an A&G mine crashed through a home located downhill from the mine, killing four year old Jeremy Davidson in his sleep. This tragic event caused by the gross negligence of the coal companies sparked outrage throughout the coalfields of Southern Appalachia and ultimately galvanized the movement to abolish mountaintop removal mining with the formation of Mountain Justice in 2005.