Nick Joe Rahall

The Water in Rawl, WV

The Water in Rawl, WV

“This is my tap water.  I’m unemployed and can’t afford to buy any water.  I’m worrying now every day daily that I’m going to die.  I’ve asked a lot of the people around if they would watch out for my kids, you know … if I do die.” – Kenneth Stroud, Rawl, WV

The above photograph was taken in Rawl, WV, a community located in Nick Joe Rahall’s Congressional District. The other pictures you can find on this blog were also taken in Rahall’s district.  In fact, most of my blogs about poisoned water, toxic slurry, and flattened homelands are based on real cases from Rahall’s district. 

Yet, inexplicably, Rahall has been cast as an environmental hero, even by such groups as the Sierra Club. And thanks to this false image and coal industry influence, Rahall has been picked to chair the House Committee on Natural Resources, despite his record of a blatant disregard for clean water, perhaps our most vital natural resource.

While Rahall has the solid support of strip-miners and his constituents who live outside of the coalfields, residents who have been affected by the destruction Rahall supports are speaking out. Loudly.

In fact, the above photograph is one of many pictures and videos activists are sending to the members of Rahall’s committee. Perhaps the following letter to the editor, published in the Charleston Gazette on December 14, best sums up their thoughts about Rahall’s chairmanship.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall is hopeful that his chairmanship of the House Committee on Natural Resources will facilitate stronger measures under the Obama administration to protect the nation’s waters and endangered species. According to Paul J. Nyden’s article in the Nov. 23 Sunday Gazette-Mail, Rahall plans to lead his committee to improve the Endangered Species Act, push for stricter regulation and increased royalties from extraction of oil, natural gas, and minerals mined on federal land, and safeguard our lakes, rivers, and oceans. To this I say, “Amen.”
What is so puzzling about Rahall is that his district contains arguably the most egregious ongoing environmental catastrophe in our nation. Mountains and valleys are irrevocably destroyed, poisonous slurry impoundments loom dangerously over communities, and streams are buried and befouled. Rahall’s complicity in mountaintop removal will be his dark legacy for centuries to come.
Rahall continually refuses to acknowledge his double standard, a fact underscored in Nyden’s article that specifically omits any mention of coal extraction and processing abuse.
Perhaps Rahall feels that protecting land, water and species in other parts of the country will make up for his sins of allowing much of his own district to be ruined.
With the Obama administration tepidly speaking against mountaintop removal, and promising to combat climate change, Rahall as chairman of a powerful committee will have a fresh opportunity to either become a true champion of the environment or just remain lipstick on a pig.
Allen Johnson

Here is another letter about Rahall from a different community activist.

I am very sorry to say that Rep. Nick Rahall’s environmental actions are a
perfect modern-day example of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

As Rahall touts protection of wilderness and Western clean-water rights, he advocates for the destruction of his own state’s mountains and water.

People living in most coal-extraction communities here in Appalachia are drinking and bathing in toxic water. We that live near the blasting from mountaintop removal strip mining are being covered in poison air from coal, silica and
blasting dust.

As Rahall postures, we are poisoned and destroyed with 3 1/2
million pounds of explosives daily. He allows underground toxic coal waste sludge injection that is leaching into our water supplies.

Rahall and coal cronies try to fool people by saying “we need flat land for development,” but in reality we already have enough blasted, flattened mountains to last 1,000 years at the current rate of development. Less than 5 percent of the flattened mountains destroyed has any development at all.

No matter what other good Rahall, Sen. Robert Byrd and Sen. Jay Rockefeller do, their crime of aiding and abetting mountaintop removal strip mining will
be their legacy. America is documenting this crime.

Sarah Haltom


Please visit OHVEC or Coal River Mountain Watch to see how you can help people in communities like Rawl. It doesn’t take money to help. For example, you can write your congressman and tell him or her to support House Bill 2169, the Clean Water Protection Act, which will ban mountain top removal coal mining.


11 Responses to “Nick Joe Rahall”

  1. Anna Anderson Says:

    I find this disturbing, but maybe not for the reason anticipated by what ever idiot posted this snippet of information with this image. This guy looks as healthy as a ox while the kid which I assume is his child looks some what unhealthy. Yet, this person is simply expressing concern about his own well being. Note I said person since most parents would be commenting about concerns for their children’s health not simply expressing fear that they themselves might die if they were consuming a toxic substance. Go figure!

    I have noticed more of the same in blogs and posts about this community – poor me what will my kids do without me? Hello if you are really concerned- what about your kids? and what are you going to do about protecting them? Do you really think whining about fears for yourself is rational or convincing?

  2. Anna, I’m not sure I understand what you expect these folks to do.

    I have worked with them personally and trust me, their primary concern is with their children. In fact, the fellow in the photograph is worried about himself in part because he doesn’t want his kids to be without a father.

    It is the kids and elderly who are suffering the most in this community (and other similiar communities). There is an epidemic of very young children developing weird cancers.

    So do you not want these community members to speak out, or “whine” as you put it? Would you speak out if that was your water?

    Trust me, it takes a lot of courage to say anything bad about the coal industry in Mingo County, WV.

  3. Anna Anderson Says:

    ezlnwv – I am simply saying that there is something not natural about the excerpt. If one walked into a room to discuss the impact of consuming a toxic substance with a parent and child one would anticipate something like “I am concerned about what is this doing to my child” not “what will my child do without me.” As for speaking out, yes the natural response would be for the residents in similar situations to speak out, Mingo co. WV, or otherwise. But, one would anticipate speech to contain demands and outrage.

  4. Ah. I understand what you mean now.

    Well, the truth is, many of these community residents do speak out in rage. Those who have been fighting the longest are the angriest because they know the system the best.

    But, let me reiterate that it takes alot of courage to put your neck out and say ANYTHING bad about King Coal in southern West Virginia.


    By Erica Peterson

    January 26, 2009 ·
    Residents of several Mingo County communities are suing Massey Energy. They’ve been trying to push the lawsuit through for four years and could soon get their day in court. They say the coal company knowingly polluted their water with coal sludge, causing a multitude of health problems.

    After years of drawing clear water from their wells, families in the small communities clustered along the hill between Matewan and Williamson saw their good water turn bad. Sometimes it would be red, orange or coal-black. Even when it was clear, it often left a bad smell or a burning sensation on their skin.

    “It burned little places in your skin,” said Ernie Brown, who has lived with his wife, Carmelita, in a house in Rawl since 1979. “Matter of fact, I’ve got places on my face right now where it burnt. You’d get out and you’d start to dry, and when the towel would hit it, it would strip your skin. Your skin would feel like it’d been stripped with acid.”

    The Brown’s house is near the Rawl Sales and Coal Processing Plant. From a large picture window in the living room, they can see Massey CEO Don Blankenship’s house perched on a neighboring mountain.

    The communities near the plant now have city water thanks to a Small City Block Grant. But they spent a decade lobbying for it. The Browns and their surrounding neighbors say their wells were contaminated from coal slurry. Coal slurry is a toxic liquid produced when coal is washed with chemicals to prepare it for sale.

    The Rawl Sales and Coal Processing Plant had a permit from 1977 to 1986, allowing it to inject coal slurry into an underground abandoned mine nearby.

    Ernie Brown thinks the slurry leaked out.

    “And just imagine somebody drinking off of that. And bathe and cook and brush your teeth,” he said.

    “And just imagine, for us here in these areas, our wells were actually in that. We were actually using off of the raw sludge. Not treated, but raw sludge. Every chemical they use, we were exposed to.”

    Wheeling Jesuit University biology professor Ben Stout tested wells near the processing plant. The water contained lead, arsenic, manganese and iron. He says many of the heavy metals found in the water could have a negative impact on health but manganese may be the worst.

    “Manganese is probably one that scares me more than any just because of the unique symptoms within these communities,” Stout said. “There’s several different potential consequences regarding dental care and also potentially dementia and I don’t think that much is well known about it.

    “But those are really high levels of manganese down there in Williamson in those wells.”

    The health problems throughout the Mingo County communities vary. Carmelita Brown had chronic kidney infections and kidney stones for years. Ernie Brown had a tumor removed from his sinuses. Both say they’ve developed memory problems.

    The Browns say the water ruined more than their health. The water corroded their pipes and appliances. It filled their home with hydrogen sulfide gas, which smells like rotten eggs and carries with it its own health risks.

    Carmelita Brown says more than two decades of living in a home filled with gas and polluted water was unbearable at times.

    “Oh I tell you, if it was any day that I wanted to pack my stuff and leave, it was that day,” she said, remembering a day when the corrosion ate through yet another kitchen faucet. “I wanted to leave. I wanted to get away from the state of West Virginia and away from this problem.

    “I sit now and I think about it. No one knows what I went through unless they’ve lived here and went through this. There were days I wished I could not even live. I was so sick. My kidneys, I thought they were actually going to fail me. I would never wish this on my worst enemy. But to think that the coal company would do something like this.”

    The lawsuit alleges the coal company knowingly polluted the water. The plaintiffs are hoping to collect damages to monitor and treat health problems that they say stemmed from the pollution.

    Donetta Blankenship lives down the road from the Browns. The 40-year-old suffered liver disease twice over a two-year period. She says she’s never a touched a drink of alcohol in her life. She says financial compensation for her illness would be nice, but she hopes at the very least the lawsuit raises awareness.

    “But the way that I feel about it, if it’s one of the biggest lawsuits you know in newspapers and everything, it’s going to get out all over the United States,” she said. “And if other people can see what’s going on, maybe they’ll start looking into their water and stuff.”

    To read the rest, hear the interview, and see pictures visit:

  6. Our sympathy is extended. We are going through some of the same things here. Some days we feel defeated and somedays renewed strength because of the way you guys paved. Thanks for your persistence.

  7. Boone County,
    Thank you for refusing to be victims. You inspire us.

  8. Ansted Mom Says:


    WV has been at the mercy of men who would use us and cast us aside for our resources,(miners included), and never have to deal with the health and economic issues that has arisen from their greed. Companies such s Massey tell their employees how the nasty “tree hugging hippies” want to take their jobs, deprive their children of a future, and break the working man’s ability to support his family. I’m not sure what would quantify the above description of someone who, in wanting to save their children from debilitating disorders resulting from exsposure to silica being circulated in our air due to MTR blasting, spoke out against the destruction of their home, health, and property. The toxic effects of Mountain Top Removal are so numerous and the benifits to the people who do the work are so few that I’m suprised people would continue to do it even if they made 100.00 an hour.

    Massey and others of their ilk must be jubuliant that the price of human life and property is so cheap. I think the old saying goes, ” A mule is worth more than a man any day. ” All of this will cease when folks realize their own worth and make our representatives do what they were elected for and that is to represent we the people and not their own interests.

    Thank you for having a place for folks to speak out.

  9. Ansted, thank you for speaking out!
    Your bravery and commitment to justice is the only thing getting in the way of King Coal’s destruction. It is an inspiration to justice seeking people everywhere.

    I have driven through Ansted and it is one of the most beautiful places I have seen. I know the industry has ruined part of Gauley Mountain and plans on doing more. What nerve!!

    I hope you guys don’t let them get away with it.

  10. Speaking of Gauley Mountain, I found this information on the facebook group “Save Gauley Mountain.”


    Do you know Gauley Mountain? It’s the one you see when you look downstream as you cross the New River Gorge Bridge.

    It’s also the one that separates the New River National River Area and the Gauley River National Recreation Area.

    It’s being blown up. Destroyed. Gone forever. The Powelton Coal company is operating a strip mine on Gauley Mountain, using a process called mountaintop removal.

    Mountaintop removal mining buries streams. It poisons public water supplies. It releases toxic heavy metals into creeks and rivers. And it levels -permanently- the mountains here in the beautiful Mountain State.

    Does the Gauley or the New feel like home to you? You can help protect it.

    Join the group- save a mountain.


    And here is a petition you can sign:

  11. […] Senator Robert C. Byrd, an acquiescent supporter of MTR and former Klan member; Rahall=Nick Jo Rahall; and Rockefeller=Senator Jay Rockefeller, an ardent supporter of MTR. Editor: The legacy of Byrd, […]

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