RAZING APPALACHIA explores the controversial issue of mountaintop removal mining by following a grassroots fight to stop the process in West Virginia. Set in Pigeonroost Hollow, a valley in the town of Blair in the misty folds of the Appalachian Mountains, the film follows the journey of several families as they struggle to protect their land. Pigeonroost, with its narrow creek and crawdads, its wild ginseng and raccoons, looks as it might have a century ago — a woody haven tucked away from the march of time and technology. But for how long? And at what price?
The fortunes and history of the people of West Virginia are virtually inseparable from coal mining. As long as anyone can remember, men have fought the mountains with pickax and shovel to dig out the shiny black rock that powers the ever-expanding energy demands of the United States. But those early miners never knew that one day, 20-story tall machines called draglines would bite into the earth and move a hundred tons of rock at a time. Mountaintops (called “overlays” by the coal mining industry) are literally sliced off and thrown down into valleys and streams below in an effort to get at the coal buried deep inside.
In May 1998, Arch Coal, Inc. announced it would expand its Dal-Tex strip mine just above the small town of Blair. Rock and soil debris from a mountaintop mine stretching five square miles would bury Pigeonroost Hollow and Creek. But lifetime residents said too many in their community had already been bought out or chased away by the gigantic mine. In the face of thunderous blasting and lung-choking dust caused by mountaintop mining, 40 families — where there were once 300 — stayed in Blair. RAZING APPALACHIA is the story of the fight between those families, the coal company, and 400 union miners who will lose their jobs if the Dal-Tex strip mine is not expanded. the state’s political leaders and the 400 union miners whose jobs were on the line.
The film also digs into the history of coal in West Virginia, the only state that lies entirely in Appalachia. Archival photographs and films, and testimony from miners and families whose lands are being irreparably altered by strip mining, reveal the harsh history of a place where backbreaking work, poverty and isolation have taken their toll. An all-but-forgotten historic event, the Battle of Blair Mountain, is documented — the only time in history that the United States government dropped bombs on its own people, during the fight to unionize the coalmines in 1921.
Following the completion of filming, this case is still being fought in the courts. In 2002, the Bush Administration came out in favor of mountaintop removal mining. Chief Judge Charles H. Haden II of the Southern District of West Virginia and families from across the state continue to oppose it.