Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled against returning Blair Mountain to the National Register of Historic Places. The move would have protected the mountain from mining by Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal, which have received mining permits for the historic site.
As you may recall, Blair Mountain was the site of the largest civil uprising since the Civil War. Miners warred against mining companies for fair pay and basic rights in 1921.
According to Ken Ward Jr. at the Charleston Gazette, “the citizen groups could not meet one of the requirements to show ‘standing’ to bring the case, that of ‘redressability,’ or that a favorable ruling from the court would redress their injury.”
Here is the judge’s explanation:
It is likely, therefore, that surface mining would be permitted on the Blair Mountain Battlefield as a result of permits that were acquired prior to the historic district’s inclusion on the National Register. An order from this Court restoring the Blair Mountain Battlefield to the National Register, therefore, will not prevent mining from occurring should the coal mining companies who own existing permits choose to exercise their rights afforded by the permits. The Court having only a limited ability to redress the plaintiffs’ asserted injuries, the plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden under the final prong of the standing inquiry.
A spokesman for the advocacy group Appalachian Voices, responded with this statement:
The real story is the relentless campaign by coal companies to undermine the national significance of Blair Mountain so they can blow it up to get at the coal. It’s simply stunning that they would even consider demolishing the site of the largest battle on American soil since the Civil War and one of the most important historical landmarks for organized labor in the world. Can you imagine if a company sought to turn the Gettysburg battlefield into a massive landfill? Is nothing sacred to these big coal companies beyond next quarter’s profits?
Today’s court decision was based on a technicality and is not the last word on the fate of Blair Mountain. We call on the Obama Administration to use its full power to ensure that this national treasure is protected. Furthermore, we call on Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal to respect our cultural heritage and the memory of those who gave their lives to improve the conditions of working people by abandoning this outrageous effort to conduct mountaintop removal coal mining operations on Blair Mountain.