Two environmentalists, sittin’ in a tree…

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September 7, 2009

11:09 AM

Tree-sitters are probably best known for protecting the beautiful California redwoods out West, but this week some inspiring spirits made news on the East Coast as they sat in trees to attempt to prevent the land from being demolished by mountaintop removal. Nick Stocks, 25, and Laura Steepleton, 24, perched on top of 80-foot poplars to protest this damaging process at Pettry Bottom, in Raleigh County, W.Va.

The two opposed ongoing blasting for the Edwight Surface Miner by Massey Energy. They said that landslides could potentially harm the inhabitants in Pettry Bottom, below the blasting site. Many detrimental environmental effects are also a part of mountain top removal, such as deforestation and health effects. A resident said that his family suffered from respiratory problems due to “coal and silica dust and toxic fumes like diesel fuel and ammonium nitrates” in the air.

In addition to the tree-sit, a petition circulated across the internet to support the sitters and oppose the mine. The tree-sitters are associated with several non-violent direct actions in the area to end coal-mining in the area, called the Coal River Valley. The protests have brought together residents, students, miners, military veterans and other citizens and environmentalists.

Reportedly security personnel banged on metal buckets and flashed lights to prevent the two from getting any sleep. They were also threatened with a chainsaw. Their support team (support teams for tree-sits generally provide food, water and encouragement) were arrested on Aug. 28 but the sitters remained strong. Unfortunately Stocks and Steepleton were arrested on Aug. 31 and charged with trespass, obstruction and littering. Their bail was set to $25,000 each and Stock and Steepleton descended.

Mountain top removal is a serious and sometimes overlooked problem in the U.S. The process involves blasting ground up to 1,000 meters deep to find coal seams. Land is deforested, then explosives clear ground to expose the coal. The material from blasting generally fills nearby valleys, often burying streams.

Mountaintop removal occurs primarily in the Appalachian Mountains, mostly in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia. It is also relatively new; it became popular in the 1970s as the petroleum crisis sparked the need for more economical options for coal than underground mining.

It is an unsustainable process that harms nearby communities. But unfortunately almost half of the energy used in the U.S. comes from coal-fired power plants. To read day-by-day reports concerning these awesome activists, click here. Tree-sits are not the only way to oppose this process. Click here for more information on mountaintop removal, its effects and ways to fight it.

Peace & Love until next time.

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