Mountaintop Removal: Massey Energy Files ’SLAPP’ Lawsuit against Environmental Activists

Williamson Daily News

ROCK CREEK — Massey Energy has filed a politically motivated civil suit, also known as a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit, against 14 activists arrested last year in relation to a protest on a mountaintop removal mining site.

"The suit seems to be part of a larger strategy on the part of the mining company to intimidate and silence critics of the company’s safety record and controversial mining practices, particularly mountaintop removal coal mining," said Larry Hildes, an attorney representing the 14 activists.

Since the spring of 2008, Massey has filed at least four SLAPP suits against activists in West Virginia working to end mountaintop removal, none of which have yet been resolved, said Hildes. Commonly used to exhaust critics by burdening them with the cost of a massive legal defense, SLAPP suits have been banned by at least 26 states and one territory has protections against SLAPP suits. West Virginia does not have a ban, but its courts have adopted some protections against them (1).

“We think that Massey should have higher priorities than suing environmental activists who object to an extremely disastrous mining policy,” said Hildes. “With a record like theirs, they need to be focusing on measures to help local communities impacted by their mining and working to prevent future disasters in their mines.”

Hildes continued:

"Massey Energy is already publicly notorious because of their history of safety violations and damage to local communities. In April 2010, Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine suffered a preventable disaster that took the lives of 29 miners and was widely covered by the press. Thousands more safety violations have been reported in Massey mines throughout West Virginia and Kentucky since the Upper Big Branch disaster. Massey also continues to be one of the leading proponents of controversial mountaintop removal mining practices. Above ground, over 500 mountains, 2,000 miles of rivers and streams and over a million acres of forest have been decimated by mountaintop mining operations. Finally, Appalachian communities near Massey mountaintop removal operations are harmed through coal dust, regular blasting, dirty water and coal waste."

Rock Creek resident Charles Suggs, agrees with Hildes:

“Not only is Massey destroying Appalachia’s mountains and water, and criminally neglecting the safety of their own workers, but they are also using their vast legal and financial resources to sue environmentalists instead of cleaning up their mess. This SLAPP suit is intended to intimidate and silence their critics so that Massey won’t have to actually make right the damage they’ve done.”

On June 18, 2009, in Twilight, the 14 activists named in the lawsuit risked their safety to stop massive, 20-story earth-destroying piece of mining equipment known as a dragline. The protesters claims their action was intended to protect the families whose lives are harmed every day by this destructive mining practice. Massey now seeks $350,000 in damages for loss of coal production on that day. All 14 activists had their criminal charges resolved in a West Virginia court in September, 2009.

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