* Mountaintop removal coal mining condemned in new film
* Bobby Kennedy Jr. claims U.S. democracy has failed
By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK, June 6 A contentious U.S. debate over
mountaintop removal coal mining is making its way to movie
theaters in a documentary that its makers hope will rouse
Americans to action over the environmental effects of "Big
"The Last Mountain," which opens in U.S. cities throughout
June, shows sweeping aerial views of mined Appalachian
mountains in West Virginia and settles on a battle by locals
and environmentalists to stop mining in Coal River Mountain --
the last intact mountain left untouched in their surrounding
area in West Virginia.
"Coal River Mountain has become the epicenter of the battle
about coal in the United States and the planet's ecological
future," said director Bill Haney, who said the film's $1-2
million budget came from private individuals.
In mountaintop, or surface mining, companies dig into
mountains and dump debris in streams and valleys that
environmentalists charge pollutes water and kills plants and
Robert F. Kennedy Jr -- the environmental activist son of
the late Bobby Kennedy -- says the practice ravages mountain
tops, uproots communities, poisons fish, compromises government
agencies and leads to a host of human health defects.
"West Virginia is the template for what is going to happen
for the rest of the country," Kennedy Jr. told Reuters.
"They have buried 2500 miles of Appalachian rivers and
blown up 500 mountains and the only reason that happens is
because democracy has failed and they have been able to hide
this story from the American people," he said.
Mountaintop mining is cheaper than underground mining, but
the coal industry and U.S. government bodies argue that it is
subject to stringent state and federal permits in which coal
companies must specify how they will safely remove debris and
are held responsible for re-planting forests after the mine is
But the documentary argues otherwise. It features Kennedy
as he joins local activists trying to stop Massey Energy Co.
from mining the top off of Coal River Mountain, and lobbying
for building a wind farm instead.
LOSS OF DEMOCRACY
Massey owned the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West
Virginia where 29 miners died in an explosion last year.
Massey declined to be interviewed for the film. Karen
Hanretty, a spokeswoman for Alpha Natural Resources ANR.N,
which has since acquired Massey, told Reuters she could not
comment: "We don't want to prejudge a film that we haven't
According to a U.S. EPA report last year, mountaintop
removal damages water quality, ecosystems, renders streams
unfit for fishing or drinking and has resulted in almost 2,000
miles of Appalachian headwater streams being buried.
Massey's 28 waste impoundments in the United States have
spilled 24 times in the last decade, contaminating rivers with
more than 300 million gallons of toxic sludge, the filmmakers
said, quoting a 2009 report by the Coal Impoundment Location &
Kennedy, 57, an environmental law attorney who wrote a 2005
book, "Crimes Against Nature", argues that government agencies
meant to protect Americans from pollution, "have become the
sock puppets or instrumentality for the industry that it is
supposed to regulate."
A spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of
Environmental Protection declined to return a call for
"One of the broader messages of this film is a warning to
Americans about what happens when corporations take over our
government," Kennedy said.
The documentary, which argues that wind power should
replace coal, also takes issue with the industry's claims that
stopping coal mining would mean job losses.
"Fifty years ago there were 151,000 coal miners in West
Virginia and today there are 15,000 and yet the coal coming out
each year has soared in that period of time," Kennedy said.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)