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An Open Letter to Governor Joe Manchin
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by Mark Schmerling | 2007

The Mountaintop Removal issue has received support from concerned citizens around the country. Here is an open letter to Gov. Manchin from a Pennsylvania resident.

To My Mountain State Sierrans:

I wanted to make you aware of some of the support we’ve had from Sierra Club members nationwide and let you know we do not stand alone in our  fforts to stop the desecration of our beautiful state, the sickening of our people and the total annihilation of cities in the southern part of WV. (See Mark Schmerling’s open letter to the Governor below.)

Mark is a Sierra Club member who has a photography business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On his several field trips to WV he has taken manyheart-touching photographs which serve as a searing indictment of what we have tolerated in order to supply electricity nationwide. Mark has very generously contributed these photographs for our use to share in venues nationwide. I took Mark’s photographs with me to the Board of Directors meeting in San Francisco last September where they (along with Larry Gibson’s account of life near an MTR site) touched many hearts and generated nationwide support for our struggle.

Regina Hendrix

Dear Governor Manchin:

West Virginia’s dirty coal secret is spilling out faster than a sludge dam failure. It’sout beyond the state’s borders. It’s out through excellent magazine features on the national and international level. It’s out because of the efforts of informed and dedicated members of state, regional and national environmental groups.

It’s out because of brave individuals who have taken action after their state and federal officials have hidden in the pockets of the coal barons for better than a century, allowing these exploiters to destroy the land, the culture, the health and the spirit of hundreds of thousands of people.

Enclosed are three of the many photos I took in southern West Virginia this past spring. Please study these carefully, and remember them each time you lay your head down at night. I want you to study my portrait of Jimmy Weekley. Coal mining broke his body, but not his spirit. Jimmy is the last remaining resident of his hollow near Blair; a hollow whose stream runs clean and clear— for now. The aliens are approaching Jimmy’s home of 66 years, as they are approaching other mountain communities, to destroy the forests and mountains that have protected and nourished West Virginia highlanders for upwards of two hundred fifty years, and native Americans before them…






I want you to study and remember my photo of the Ash Branch of Paint Creek. It represents a beautiful, inspiring and life-giving piece of nature— for now. But the aliens have their sights on this area too. Sadly, many coal country residents know such streams only in their memories.





I want you to study and remember my photo of Massey Energy’s coal silo towering over Marsh Fork Elementary School. I also want you to know of the woman who approached me while I was making this photograph, and who said I shouldn’t be there. She was apparently more afraid of what would happen to her and her family if Massey discovered that they didn’t chase me off, than of how coal dust from Massey’s facility is poisoning their children and their teachers, inside the school. She must be more afraid of crossing Massey than she is of the crushing wall of poisonous water which will surge through the school if the earthen dam above it gives way. This is about their children, for God’s sake. Parents’ natural instinct is to protect their children. The school was there first! These folks have been oppressed by the coal companies and betrayed on every level and at every turn by their own government for so long, that they don’t realize that parents anywhere else would be outraged, and demand that such a clear danger as the coal treatment plant be moved out immediately. It’s unlikely that such a facility, or the pond, would be placed near a school in the first place. Now, the more concerned parents have no choice but to raise money on their own to build a new school. And Massey will pay nothing for the illness, stress and fear they have caused…

A mountaintop removal site on Cazy Mountain, in Boone County, was “reclaimed” 22 years ago. It sprouts nothing but non-native grass, and a few thin, nastylooking, non-native shrubs. Where is the earth-cooling hardwood forest? Where is the native ginseng that mountaineers have always been able to dig to sell and use? Where are the deer, the turkeys, the many species of songbirds, small  mammals and other animals? Where are the clean, swift-flowing streams and their native trout? Where is life-giving soil? Where is life?

You may know that Pennsylvania, which has contributed much coal to this nation, and much coal-related pollution and human misery, now generates more wind power than any other state east of the Mississippi. Are wind farms especially scenic? No, but they are visions of hope. Do they cripple thousands of workers, spew toxic waste into the air and water? No. Do they destroy the health and culture of the residents? No. Can they be dismantled and the sites returned to their natural states if better energy technology comes along? They certainly can.

In southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, descendants of the proudest, most independent and most patriotic of all American populations are now slaves in  their own land. They are victims of true terrorism committed by American corporations on American soil, with the blessing of their own governments.

Residents outside the coal fields are learning that basic human rights are being violated wholesale in your state. When individuals stand up for what is right, and are repaid by physical threats and vandalism, their vehicles tampered with, their pets killed; when their land, and their water are poisoned, and corporate officials can dismiss these floods as “acts of God,” and can get away with it; when long-time residents are forced off their land, and their health sacrificed on the altar of shortterm profit, that’s human rights abuse; that’s terrorism.

But, as I said governor, the secret is out, and Massey can’t put it back. Arch Coal and all the other companies that have raped the land and the people of the southern Appalachians for a century, can’t put it back…

Since no one can shove the secret back into it’s dirty bag, you have an opportunity to do what’s right for your fellow West Virginians— the ones who are bravely doing what is right, the ones who are yet afraid to stand up, for fear of economic and physical retribution, the ones who don’t know how free people take charge of their lives, and the ones yet to be born. You can do what’s right and help abolish mountaintop removal mining…

Thank you.
Mark Schmerling

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