‘Top Line’ at the Movies: ‘The Last Mountain’ and the Politics of Big Coal

ABC News’ Rick Klein (@rickklein) reports: West Virginia’s coal country is the subject of a new documentary – specifically, the battle waged by a small community against a push by Massey Energy to engage in the controversial practice of mountaintop removal mining on one of the last pristine coal-rich mountains in the state.

We delved into the politics of Big Coal on ABC’s “Top Line” today with Bobby Kennedy Jr. – an environmental activist has been leading the fight featured in the film – and Bill Haney, the director of “ The Last Mountain .”

“If you try to do what they do in West Virginia in the Berkshires, the Catskills or the Sierra Nevadas, or in Utah or Colorado, people would just put you in jail,” Kennedy told us.

“Over the past 10 years, they’ve blown up and leveled an area of eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia that is larger than the size of Delaware. They’ve blown up the 500 biggest mountains in West Virginia. They explode everyday 2,500 tons of dynamite, or ammonia nitrate explosives. It’s the equivalent of a Hiroshima bomb once a week. And they take the rock and debris and rubble and dump it into the adjacent river valley.”

“They get away with it in West Virginia because as in every place where you see large scale environmental injury, you’ll also see the subversion of democracy. And at every level democracy has been crushed by these large corporations in West Virginia,” Kennedy continued. “It’s distressing for everyone in this country.”

Haney told us that the industry’s argument that they need to engage in mountaintop removal to protect jobs doesn’t hold up when you realize that companies are extracting more coal with fewer workers.

“We’re both sensitive to the fact the economy is in a vulnerable place and that Americans need work. But it’s also a giant mythology,” Haney said. “The reality is that the coal industry has been using these explosives that Bobby was just talking about to eliminate jobs.”

“So we’re not advocating for getting rid of power. We’re advocating for getting the power in a responsible way, and something that doesn’t destroy the patrimony that we all grew up with, whether it’s clean air and clean water or these beautiful mountain ranges in Appalachia.”

And Kennedy said these types of battles matter far beyond West Virginia, for deeper reasons than those impacting the coal business:

“West Virginia is really the template of where our nation is headed, which is away from the democracy that our founders believed in and towards kind of a corporate control of the decision-making at every level of government,” he said. “And I think that’s one of the questions that this film really poses to the American people.”

“The Last Mountain” is rolling out to Landmark Theatres nationwide starting next month. Watch the interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Bill Haney HERE :

We also checked in with National Journal’s Major Garrett about the tussling over the Paul Ryan Medicare proposal, the fallout of Mitch Daniels’ non-candidacy for the president, plus Sen. Tom Coburn’s refusal to answer questions about the scandal that forced Sen. John Ensign to resign.

Watch that “Top Line” segment HERE :

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