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Moving Mountains

Moving Mountains: How One Woman and Her Community Won Justice from Big Coal

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Moving Mountains
    Book Description:

    Deep in the heart of the southern West Virginia coalfields, one of the most important environmental and social empowerment battles in the nation has been waged for the past decade. Fought by a heroic woman struggling to save her tiny community through a landmark lawsuit, this battle, which led all the way to the halls of Congress, has implications for environmentally conscious people across the world.

    The story begins with Patricia Bragg in the tiny community of Pie. When a deep mine drained her neighbors' wells, Bragg heeded her grandmother's admonition to "fight for what you believe in" and led the battle to save their drinking water. Though she and her friends quickly convinced state mining officials to force the coal company to provide new wells, Bragg's fight had only just begun. Soon large-scale mining began on the mountains behind her beloved hollow. Fearing what the blasting off of mountaintops would do to the humble homes below, she joined a lawsuit being pursued by attorney Joe Lovett, the first case he had ever handled.

    In the case against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Bragg v. Robertson), federal judge Charles Haden II shocked the coal industry by granting victory to Joe Lovett and Patricia Bragg and temporarily halting the practice of mountaintop removal. While Lovett battled in court, Bragg sought other ways to protect the resources and safety of coalfield communities, all the while recognizing that coal mining was the lifeblood of her community, even of her own family (her husband is a disabled miner).

    The years of Bragg v. Robertson bitterly divided the coalfields and left many bewildered by the legal wrangling. One of the state's largest mines shut down because of the case, leaving hardworking miners out of work, at least temporarily. Despite hurtful words from members of her church, Patricia Bragg battled on, making the two-hour trek to the legislature in Charleston, over and over, to ask for better controls on mine blasting. There Bragg and her friends won support from delegate Arley Johnson, himself a survivor of one of the coalfield's greatest disasters.

    Award-winning investigative journalist Penny Loeb spent nine years following the twists and turns of this remarkable story, giving voice both to citizens, like Patricia Bragg, and to those in the coal industry. Intertwined with court and statehouse battles is Patricia Bragg's own quiet triumph of graduating from college summa cum laude in her late thirtie and moving her family out of welfare and into prosperity and freedom from mining interests. Bragg's remarkable personal triumph and the victories won in Pie and other coalfield communities will surprise and inspire readers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5656-9
    Subjects: Law, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. List of Recurring People and Organizations
    (pp. xvii-1)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. 2-2)
  7. Chapter 1 Awakening to Injustice
    (pp. 3-18)

    A long time ago, Patricia Bragg’s grandmother had told her, “You got to fight for what you believe in.” They were words that Patricia never forgot. But she never thought she’d have to live by them. Not till a cold day near Christmas in 1994.

    All through the summer, Trish, as her friends called her, had watched a new house rise at the edge of her garden. She and her husband, Dewey, a disabled miner, knew they could never afford anything better than their green-shingled rambler tucked under the mountain.

    Trish had known Susan Curry, the new homeowner, since she...

  8. Chapter 2 Slicing Mountains
    (pp. 19-39)

    A new kind of mining was coming three-quarters of a mile behind Irish’s house—coming, too, a few miles down the road behind Kayla’s school in Varney. What gave West Virginia its nickname—The Mountain State—was being inexorably altered: hills that had stood for millions of years were becoming extinct.

    The mountains surrounding Pie are part of a densely packed jumble of peaks in an area about 75 miles wide and stretching 150 miles south and west from Charleston into Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. They were formed just as the first beta version of dinosaurs was released on earth...

  9. Chapter 3 A Miner’s Life
    (pp. 40-49)

    The mines around Blair, first those underground, and then the surface mine that opened in the 1970s, had provided a good living at union wages for more than one thousand miners. In addition, hundreds of people worked for suppliers of machinery and other items that made the mines run. And local groceries and gas stations depended on the miners. In late 1997 the Dal-Tex mine at Blair employed more than four hundred miners. Most worked on the mountaintop, but a smaller group with specialized skills worked at the preparation plant. Bob Schultz was one of the latter group, and he...

  10. Chapter 4 The Lawyer
    (pp. 50-65)

    While Vicky testified that damp night in Sharpies, a slim man, younger-looking than his age of thirty-eight, watched from near the stage.This one was even wilder than that one in Varney, Joe Lovett thought.

    Three days into Joe’s first week as a lawyer early in September of 1997, a gaunt man with a shock of gray hair walked into Joe’s office at Mountain State Justice on the fifth floor of a nondescript office building in downtown Charleston. James Weekley and his wife, Sibby, who came with him, lived in Blair, and they had a problem with the Arch Coal...

  11. Chapter 5 Changing the Laws
    (pp. 66-90)

    As 1997 wound down, Trish Bragg and Vicky Moore continued their quest for help from the state and federal governments. Joe, too, turned to officialdom, but for a different reason. Thinking a stint as a part-time lawyer during the two-month legislative session would help him learn the laws and politics of the state, he became a staff attorney for the House Judiciary Committee. It would still be four months before he would meet Trish. In the interim, all three would step into the colorful, sometimes corrupt, world of politics that is unique to West Virginia.

    Vicky and Trish began with...

  12. Chapter 6 Bragg v. Robertson
    (pp. 91-99)

    With the legislative session over, Joe began putting finishing touches on the first step of the case he planned to file with Pat McGinley and Suzanne Weise. Known as a notice of intent to sue, this would let state and federal agencies know that a case was going to be filed.

    Joe had heard of Trish and had followed WVOP’s lobbying escapades. But they had never met. Trish knew of Joe’s case and had heard he was looking to expand the scope of his case by taking on new clients. Joe was eager to have Trish as a client not...

  13. Chapter 7 Rallying Around
    (pp. 100-119)

    For Trish and Vicky, it was a season of rallies and tours and study groups.

    In early summer 1998, Trish joined members of WVOP and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition for bird’s-eye tours—flights over southern West Virginia. The plane was from South Wings, an activist group that wanted to expose environmental atrocities in the southeastern United States.

    In spite of all that Trish had learned about mountaintop mining, she was shocked by seeing its effects from the air.How could it be right to destroy mountains, communities, and the Appalachian culture, Trish thought as she peered through tears out...

  14. Chapter 8 The Moores’ Case
    (pp. 120-128)

    Even before the visit of James Weekley to Joe Lovett—which prompted the launch ofBragg v. Robertson—Vicky and Tommy Moore had initiated their own suit. They had hired Robert Shostak from Athens, Ohio, to sue Arch Coal over the nuisance of dust and blasting. Then early in 1998 Pat McGinley and Suzanne Weise had joined the case, and soon they would take the lead. Vicky did not just sit back and wait, though. Every morning in the spring and early summer of 1998, she arose with one thought on her mind: What can I do today to help...

  15. Chapter 9 Internal Wrangling
    (pp. 129-133)

    As the summer of 1998 waned, Trish found herself in the unusual position of peacemaker at WVOP. John Humphries had resigned after the legislative session in March. Arley had been sad to see him go, because he had relied on John’s quick grasp of issues.

    Toward the end of John’s tenure, he and Trish had been increasingly at odds. John was an engineer by training and tended to approach organizing with a slide rule, rather than a handkerchief. Trish, who spent hours on the phone with whoever needed help, resented John when he limited her phone calls to him to...

  16. Chapter 10 The Governor’s Task Force
    (pp. 134-140)

    Elaine Purkey felt overwhelmed. Although she had been reading newspapers and watching television news, she faced a cram course on lawsuits, blasting legislation, and now something called the Governor’s Task Force on Mountaintop Mining and Related Mining Methods.

    Governor Underwood had set up the Task Force in May and had chosen J. Wade Gilley, president of Marshall University in Huntington, as chairman. The Task Force split into three committees, one to study environmental impact, one for economic stimulus, and a third on mining’s impact on communities. Among the seventeen members were several legislators, coal lobbyists, and former and current EPA,...

  17. Chapter 11 Settling for Less or More
    (pp. 141-152)

    “This is the last hearing I’m going to,” Joe Lovett commented as the car sped down Corridor G to Logan on October 24, 1998. Joe was headed for the EPA hearing on mountaintop removal to be held at Southern West Virginia Community College.

    He was prepared for the worst, knowing that Arch and Massey had both put notices requesting attendance in miners’ paycheck envelopes. Arch had written that water quality was improved and claimed that the environmental extremists had no scientific proof otherwise. W. Michael McCabe, the EPA regional director who had been so enraged by SB 145’s valley-fill expansion...

  18. Chapter 12 Before the Judge
    (pp. 153-182)

    Maybe it was the prayer that Trish said. Joe awoke at 4:00 one morning not long after the settlement turmoil and realized they hadn’t given up everything when they settled Section 404. They still had the buffer-zone argument, as well as Approximate Original Contour (AOC) and several other claims. They would attack DEP on those. It was the agency’s responsibility to prevent disturbance within one hundred feet of all but the tiniest “ephemeral” streams.

    Joe spent January 1999 in a swirl of motions and discussions with Jim Hecker and Pat and Suzanne. Outside Joe’s office, turmoil escalated. The legislative session...

  19. Chapter 13 Back at the Legislature
    (pp. 183-193)

    Tossed on a chair near the well of the capitol building, theLogan Banner’s March 9 headline read: “Commission: This Is War.” Logan County Commission president Art Kirkendoll was declaring the second Battle of Blair Mountain—this time against out-of-state environmentalists. More than one hundred miners and local government officials from Logan and Mingo counties were milling around the well, periodically surrounding a friendly legislator who came scurrying through. Rick Abraham was there, as were top officials from Arch Coal.

    How different from two months earlier. Afternoon sun had shone through the tall windows of the House Government Organization Committee...

  20. Chapter 14 Frenzied Negotiations
    (pp. 194-212)

    Sun warmed the narrow streets of Logan Saturday afternoon, March 27, but the mood in the shops was gray. A poster that hung in the window of Nu-Era Bakery, a Logan landmark, verbalized the pervading concern:

    Southern West Virginia

    Coal Field

    Worship Service

    3/28 2 p. m.

    We ask all Southern West Virginia [words obliterated]

    Church special meeting. Let us come together

    One mind and one accord and pray for God

    To perform a miracle by saving our jobs.

    Our very livelihoods and the State of West Virginia

    Is endangered by the mountaintop removal catastrophe

    Gene Phillips 369-3276

    Bob Schultz...

  21. Chapter 15 The Environmental Impact Statement
    (pp. 213-225)

    During the forty-five days of public comment on the consent decree, the study for the Environmental Impact Statement was actively proceeding. The EIS was one of the benefits gained from settling the Section 404 portion ofBragg, in December 1998.

    In the middle of August 1999, Jim Green, in knee-high camouflage-colored waders, squatted in a sun-spattered stream deep in the woods, scrubbing wet rocks with a pot brush. The residue contained tiny streamd-welling macroinvertebrates, which he dumped into plastic sample jars. In a few minutes, Green picked up a thin metal rod about four feet long, attached by a wire...

  22. Chapter 16 Unbelievable
    (pp. 226-239)

    We’re about to get smashed, Joe thought. He had just learned that Haden had ruled in his favor on his sole remaining claim—no mining within the one-hundred-foot buffer zone for intermediate and perennial streams.

    Actually, Joe had thought he had a fifty-fifty chance of winning. He should be thrilled, he thought; Haden had bought all his arguments, Section 404, Section 402—everything. Though it was no longer part of the case, Haden had actually rendered an opinion on 404: “The Court finds and concludes that overburden or excess spoil, being a pollutant and waste material, is not ‘fill material’...

  23. Chapter 17 The New Era
    (pp. 240-278)

    By 2006 Trish felt not sadness at defeat before the appeals court, but joy in other victories that had come from her efforts. The case and Trish’s own struggle had changed the coalfields for the better in significant ways. Those who stare in horror at mountaintop removal for the first time in 2007 may not realize how much the coalfields have moved forward since Joe Lovett met Patricia Bragg in 1998.

    Because of several deep-mining and flooding disasters that occurred in the early 2000s, tougher laws are in place and are enforced. Lawyers, inspired by Joe Lovett and Pat McGinley,...

  24. Epilogue
    (pp. 279-282)

    “The first thing I want you to know is that I’m not a public speaker. I am a housewife—and I’m very proud of that, too.” Trish stood at the podium in a ballroom at a Montreal hotel, speaking at the annual meeting of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice in July 2001. Her blond hair swept across the shoulders of her forest-green-and-cream pantsuit. On the dais behind her sat TLPJ president Peter Perlman and Morris Dees, the legendary crusader against the Ku Klux Klan.

    Jim Hecker had introduced theBraggcase to the audience of three hundred. “We’ve already achieved...

  25. Appendix: The Bragg v. Robertson Case
    (pp. 283-285)
  26. Bibliography
    (pp. 286-293)
  27. Index
    (pp. 294-308)