To Save the Land and People: A History of Opposition to Surface Coal Mining in Appalachia

To Save the Land and People: A History of Opposition to Surface Coal Mining in Appalachia

To Save the Land and People: A History of Opposition to Surface Coal Mining in Appalachia

To Save the Land and People: A History of Opposition to Surface Coal Mining in Appalachia

Synopsis

Surface coal mining has had a dramatic impact on the Appalachian economy and ecology since World War II, exacerbating the region's chronic unemployment and destroying much of its natural environment. Here, Chad Montrie examines the twentieth-century movement to outlaw surface mining in Appalachia, tracing popular opposition to the industry from its inception through the growth of a militant movement that engaged in acts of civil disobedience and industrial sabotage. Both comprehensive and comparative, To Save the Land and People chronicles the story of surface mining opposition in the whole region, from Pennsylvania to Alabama.

Though many accounts of environmental activism focus on middle-class suburbanites and emphasize national events, the campaign to abolish strip mining was primarily a movement of farmers and working people, originating at the local and state levels. Its history underscores the significant role of common people and grassroots efforts in the American environmental movement. This book also contributes to a long-running debate about American values by revealing how veneration for small, private properties has shaped the political consciousness of strip mining opponents.

Excerpt

One August night in 1968, four men drove onto a strip mine site owned by the Round Mountain Coal Company in Leslie County, Kentucky. They shined a flashlight in the eyes of the lone watchman, tied him up, and drove around in his jeep for four hours, quietly and expertly setting the company’s own explosive charges. Just before sunrise, they removed the guard to a safe place, detonated the charges, and left behind the smoking hulks of a giant diesel shovel, D-9 bulldozer, auger, conveyor belt, three hi-lifts, a truck, three generators, and one jeep. Altogether, property damage totaled $750,000. Detective J. E. Cromer, of the state police force, described the destruction as the most extensive he had ever seen in eleven years of investigating sabotage. Yet company vice president Bill Arnold was supposedly dumbfounded about why anyone would go to so much trouble to halt the mine’s operations.

The men responsible for blowing up equipment at the Round Mountain strip site were never found and we cannot conclusively determine who they were or what their reasons were for engaging in sabotage. But we can speculate about their identities and motives by setting the demolition in its historical context, which is one of social ferment. During the 1960s, eastern Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia saw a surge of grassroots militancy and movement organizing, including a movement to abolish surface coal mining. the Round Mountain saboteurs were probably part of that collective effort, perhaps even members of the Appalachian Group to Save the Land . . .

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