2nd tree-sitter leaves post, ending W.Va. protest

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A tree-sitting protest designed to halt blasting at a Massey Energy mountaintop removal mine in southern West Virginia ended Monday when the activists descended from an 80-foot high platform and were arrested.

State Police confirmed that Laura Steepleton and Nick Stocks were taken into custody after spending six days in a poplar at the Edwight mine in Raleigh County.

Stocks, 25, was charged with trespassing, obstructing and littering, and State Police Sgt. M.A. Smith warned of other possible charges. Steepleton, 24, was expected to face the same charges. Both were to be arraigned later Monday.

The protesters are affiliated with Climate Ground Zero, an environmental group based in Rock Creek. Stocks recently moved to the coalfields from Idaho, while Steepleton moved several months ago from central Florida.

Climate Ground Zero spokesman Charles Suggs had said sleep deprivation was endangering the pair, who endured harassment by flashing lights, air horns, loud bangs and, over the weekend, the brandishing of a chain saw.

Steepleton had been communicating with her organization and others via text message, but her cell phone batteries were dead by Monday morning.

The protesters wanted to stop blasting by Virginia-based Massey and draw attention to its mountaintop removal mining practices. Blasting to expose coal under the mountain ridges throws rock and dust, and vibrations from the explosions can damage homes by shifting foundations and cracking walls.

The protesters demanded that Massey stop blasting and pay for health care and home repairs for people who live near the mine.

Those demands were not met, but Suggs said the protest — the 13th in the Coal River Valley this year — succeeded in drawing a “positive, wide-ranging response” from the public, including local residents.

“It was more symbolic than a lot of the other ones because they were physically acting as a barrier between the blasting and mudslides in a community that was already enduring this,” Suggs said.

In a statement by the group, Stocks faulted the state Department of Environmental Protection for failing to adequately protect citizens who live near mines and said concerned people must act when “communities are made unsafe and unlivable.”

“If the DEP doesn’t do it, we must do it ourselves, and we will go beyond,” he said. “We will stop the devastation of this mountain and protect the communities below. We will end mountaintop removal.”

Massey did not immediately comment.

On the Net:
Climate Ground Zero: www.climategroundzero.org
Massey Energy: www.masseyenergyco.com

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