In a protest on Friday against mountaintop removal mining and coal slurry impoundments, the Radical Action for Mountain Peoples' Survival activists chained themselves to an industrial tank of black water with signs that read: “Alpha, we are locked to your dirty water”
“The tank of water represents coal contamination from affected communities across the Appalachian region,” RAMPS said.
The protesters and the tanks were chained to a bridge railing across a main road, preventing Alpha employees from getting to work for about an hour.
Bristol police charged five people with obstruction of justice and obstruction of a passage, according to the Associated Press.
The group wants Alpha to end mountaintop removal mining and stop its plan to expand the Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment in West Virginia.
“We want Kevin Crutchfield, CEO of Alpha Natural Resources, to produce a signed document expressing that they won’t seek the expansion of the Brushy Fork Impoundment before we leave,” protester Junior Walk said in the statement.
“I live downstream from Alpha’s Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment on Coal River. If that impoundment breaks, my whole family would be killed,” Walk said.
“Even if it doesn’t, we’re still being poisoned by Alpha’s mining wastes every day. I’m here to bring the reality of that destruction to the corporate authorities who are causing it, but who don’t have to suffer its consequences.”
The expansion of the 6.5 billion-gallon impoundment was approved by the Mine Safety and Health Administration in March.
If it goes ahead, the impoundment will be permitted to hold as much as 8.5 billion gallons and, when fully expanded, will reach a height of 740 feet, higher than the Hoover Dam.
Environmental groups and local residents have long argued against the expansion, claiming that the impoundment was unsafely built and it is only a matter of time before it fails.
But Alpha has said past state and federal reviews found no deficiencies and that the company is “committed to designing, building and operating facilities safely.”
“We make the safety of our impoundments among the highest priorities in our company because we recognize the responsibility that comes with impoundment ownership,” an Alpha spokeswoman told the AP in March.
“If safety is ever in doubt, we won’t hesitate to stop working and shut down a mining operation.”
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection previously ruled there was no reason to believe the impoundment was improperly built or unsafe.
The department is still reviewing Alpha’s expansion application but required MSHA approval before it could act on any decision.
Alpha has more than 160 mines and processing plants in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.