BRISTOL, Va. - Protesters were arrested after blocking Alpha Natural Resources employees from getting to the company. View photos and mugshots: Alpha Natural Resources protest
The protest backed up traffic on Lee Highway in Bristol, Virginia early Friday morning.
Alpha Natural Resources employees found at least five protesters blocking the entrance to the company Friday morning on their way to work.
Pile watched along with other employees as Bristol Police called in the fire department to help remove the protesters. "They have a right to peacefully demonstrate. They have a right to voice their opinion," said Alpha Vice President Ted Pile. "I think, now, nobody would agree with their right to interfere with people coming to work."
The five protesters who were strung across the bridge were from a group called Mountain Justice, a group who protests what they refer to as 'mountain top removal' mining. "This exact action was to bring, symbolic of course, the impacts of mountain top coal mining to the headquarters to the people who are causing it, but don't have to suffer the consequences of it," said Mountain Justice supporter Emily Keeppler.
Protesters filled a barrel full of concrete, then put a pipe through it and connected themselves all the way across the bridge with chains. When firefighters cut the protesters free it left piles of concrete on the bridge. "They locked themselves to a giant barrel of dirty water to symbolize how Alpha coal is locking Appalachian to dirty water," said Keppler.
Pile told me last year Alpha had a 99.7 percent compliance rate with the water, and they are constantly monitored at the state and federal level. "We're also a highly-regulated industry, probably one of the most regulated industries in the country," said Pile.
The five protesters were arrested, but Keppler says it was worth it because this protest was personal for those who were arrested. "Their health is being compromised, their communities are being compromised, so they're absolutely willing to risk arrest in order to engage in non-violent action to stop this," said Keppler.
Pile tells us they have not received any complaints or science to prove there are health issues. "Out of about 86 million tons of coal we expect to mine this year, only 22, tons come from the type of mining they're objecting to. That'll probably be close to zero next year," said Pile.
All five protesters are from out-of-state. They are being charged with obstruction of justice and obstruction of a passage.
Mountain Justice tells us a similar protest was held in Knoxville at the same time this morning.