Activists protest mountaintop removal financing - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Activists protest mountaintop removal financing

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Environmentalists against mountaintop removal, specifically at the site of a historic union battle, gathered today in Charleston to protest Morgan Stanley's financial backing of Arch Coal.

Blair Mountain is the site of a 1921 armed march by coal miners fighting for unionization. The site, where 16 men died, has been the focus of controversy since it was removed from the National Register of Historic Places.

Arch Coal owns permits to mine on Blair Mountain. 

Brandon Nida with the Blair Mountain Heritage Alliance said several banking companies are in violation of their own human rights code.

"We're trying to raise awareness of the battlefield and financing of the battlefield, the banks that are doing are violating their internal lending commitments," Nida said. "Morgan Stanley, the main bank we're targeting today has lending commitments concerning human health and broader human rights issues."

Nida said there were members of his organization concerned both about the heritage of Blair as well as the health of the community that lives on Blair Mountain. Nida said he hopes to start a communication with the banks that finance mountaintop removal operations.

"There's multiple health risks involved in living underneath these sites," Nida said. "There are heavy metals that get into our drinking water. You can have everything from birth defects, higher rates of rare cancer, a whole host of illnesses that have been looked at and published in peer-reviewed science articles."

Morgan Stanley offered a brief response to protestor's presence near their office.

"Morgan Stanley supports environmentally responsible approaches to the extraction and use of natural resources," said James Wiggins, managing director of corporate communications at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in response to comment on protester activity.

Kenny King, who lives near the Blair Mountain battlefield, said he has been trying to protect the site for more than 20 years.

"This is part of our heritage, our culture and our history," he said. "My grandfather marched in it."

King said he wished that instead of seeing Blair Mountain destroyed, the state would use the site for historical tourism.

"We can develop that into something that would have long-term sustaining jobs," King said. "Right now we don't have any future past coal and we could be seeing that ending soon. It's a national historic site and it needs to be saved."

About 25 people gathered for the march.