An Open Letter to President Obama

[The following letter was written by Bo Webb, a resident of West Virgnia’s Coal River Valley. Bo is requesting that this letter be spread far and wide so that, just maybe, it will get someone’s attention.

At the conclusion of this letter, I have posted a music video so powerful that according to Bo, “if this doesn’t fire your rear-end up, then nothing will.” ]


Like sitting ducks waiting to be buried in an avalanche of mountain waste, we are trapped in a war zone within our own country.

Dear Mr. President,

As I write this letter, I brace myself for another round of nerve-wracking explosives being detonated above my home in the mountains of West Virginia. Outside my door, pulverized rock dust, laden with diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate explosives hovers in the air, along with the residual of heavy metals that once lay dormant underground.

The mountain above me, once a thriving forest, has been blasted into a pile of rock and mud rubble. Two years ago, it was covered with rich black topsoil and abounded with hardwood trees, rhododendrons, ferns and flowers. The understory thrived with herbs such as ginseng, black cohosh, yellow root and many other medicinal plants. Black bears, deer, wild turkey, hawks, owls and thousands of [other] birds lived here. The mountain contained sparkling streams teeming with aquatic life and fish. 
Now it is all gone. It is all dead. I live at the bottom of a mountain-top-removal coal-mining operation in the Peachtree community.

Mr. President Obama, I am writing you because we have simply run out of options. Last week, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court in Richmond, Va., overturned a federal court ruling for greater environmental restrictions on mountaintop-removal permits. Dozens of permits now stand to be rushed through. As you know, in December, the EPA under George W. Bush allowed an 11th-hour change to the stream buffer zone rule, further unleashing the coal companies to do as they please.

During your presidential campaign, you declared: “We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains.” 

That time is now. Or never.

Every day, more than 3 million pounds of explosives are detonated in our state to remove our mountains and expose the thin seams of coal. Over 470 mountains in Appalachia have been destroyed in this process, the coal scooped up and hauled away to be burned at coal-fired power plants across our country and abroad. This includes the Potomac River Plant, which generates the electricity for the White House. 

Mountaintop removal is the dirty secret in our nation’s energy supply. If coal can’t be mined clean, it can’t be called clean. Here, at the point of extraction, coal passes through a preparation plant that manages to remove some, but not all, of the metals and toxins. Those separated impurities are stored in mammoth toxic sludge dams above our communities throughout Appalachia.

There are three sludge dams within 10 miles of my home. Coal companies are now blasting directly above and next to a dam above my home that contains over 2 billion gallons of toxic waste. That is the same seeping dam that hovers just 400 yards above the Marsh Fork Elementary School. As you know, coal sludge dams have failed before, and lives have been lost.  
My family and I, like many American citizens in Appalachia, are living in a state of terror. Like sitting ducks waiting to be buried in an avalanche of mountain waste, or crushed by a falling boulder, we are trapped in a war zone within our own country.

In 1968, I served my country in Vietnam as part of the 1st Battalion 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. As you know, Appalachians have never failed to serve our country; our mountain riflemen stood with George Washington at the surrender of the British in Yorktown. West Virginia provided more per capita soldiers for the Union during the Civil War than any other state; we have given our blood for every war since. 

We have also given our blood for the burden of coal in these mountains. My uncle died in the underground mines at the age of 17; another uncle was paralyzed from an accident. My dad worked in an underground mine. Many in my family have suffered from black-lung disease.  

These mountains are our home. My family roots are deep in these mountains. We homesteaded this area in the 1820s. This is where I was born. This is where I will die.

On Jan. 15, 1972, U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller made a speech at Morris Harvey College. He declared: “The government has turned its back on the many West Virginians who have borne out of their property and out of their pocketbook the destructive impact of strip-mining. We hear that the governor once claimed to have wept as he flew over the strip mine devastation of our state. Now it’s the people who weep.” 
Our state government has turned its back on us in 2009. 

Peachtree is but one of hundreds of Appalachian communities that are being bombed. Our property has been devalued to worthlessness. Our neighbors put their kids to bed at night with the fear of being crushed or swept away in toxic sludge. And the outside coal industries continue their criminal activity through misleading and false ads.
Mr. President, when I heard you talk during your campaign stops, it made me feel like there was hope for Peachtree and the Coal River Valley of West Virginia. Hope for me and my family. 
Abraham Lincoln wrote that we cannot escape history: “The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.” 
I beg you to re-light our flame of hope and honor and immediately stop the coal companies from blasting so near our homes and endangering our lives. As you have said, we must find another way than blowing off the tops of our mountains. We must end mountaintop removal.  

I also ask you to please put an end to these dangerous toxic-sludge dams.
With utmost respect, yours truly,
Bo Webb
Naoma, W.V.



15 Responses to “An Open Letter to President Obama”

  1. Dear Mr. Webb,

    Thank you for sharing your impassioned plea to President Obama. We’re honored to be able to share it with our readers on Blue Planet Green Living ( May you and your family once again live in a green and safe place. Appalachia is one of the treasures of this country; no one should be able to destroy it and threaten the lives of the people who live there.

    Julia Wasson

  2. Sharlene Rader Says:

    Dear Mr. Webb,

    This makes me cry! Do you know what I can do as an ordinaly person to help stop this? I have no money to support your efforts and feel the govenment is deaf to the average person. What do we do?

    Sad for Us All
    Sharlene Rader

    • Thank you for your support.

      An easy and free thing you can do to help is to call your representative in the House of Delegates and ask him or her to support the Clean Water Act. Tell your representative that you have learned about mountaintop removal and you expect him or her to do everything in his or her power to stop it. The best way to reach your delegate is to call the Congressional Switchboard, toll free 202-224-3121.

      You can also write President Obama and other government officials, such as the Secretary of the Interior and the EPA Director.

      Also, please visit and sign the petition. details several additional ways to help

      Perhaps the most important thing you can do is spread the word about this tragic injustice.

      Bo and everyone else will really appreciate it.

  3. Go to http://www.coal is and check out what Mr Scott Parkin has to say about coal. Removing coal from afuel mix at the capitol coal plant is NOT enough! Its about ALL coal plants , the coal mines, the natural gas trrminals ,the oil refineries and the rest of the fossil fuel infrastructer. These groups are determined to stop MUCH more than MTR .

  4. Some groups are determined to stop all coal mining. Other groups are only worried about mountaintop removal. Groups like Coal River Mountain Watch have members who are in the United Mine Workers Union.

    In fact, a most common criticism of mountaintop removal is that it eliminates deep mining jobs.

    Personally speaking, I support the phasing out of coal as a source for electricity. A good start would be the construction of a wind farm on Coal River Mountain (

  5. Amy Hoskinson Says:

    I have many fond memories of visiting relatives in Naoma, WV as a child. I specifically remember collecting pretty rocks and playing in the Coal river. My uncle, Bo Webb, and all other affected residents, need all the help we can all contribute to end the devestating practice of Mountain Top Removal. If what is happening in the Appalachians scares you, and I hope it does, then please contact, and continue to contact, your representatives in Congress. Write, email, and call. Let them know that you are outraged that a practice as horrific as Mountain Top Removal continues to exist in this great country. Push for the bi-partisan Cardin-Alexander ammendment to the Clean Water Act. Future generations deserve to experience the majestic beauty of the Appalachians, just as many of us always have. Their beauty should not be reduced to just memories.

  6. […] Adapted from A Mountain Journey  […]

  7. […] Bo Webb lives in a war zone. He fears for his life and the lives of his family every day. He wonders, will an explosion cause debris to land on his house and loved ones? Will the toxic fumes from explosives poison their lungs and their waterways? Will the dam above his children’s elementary school break, covering everyone below with toxic waste? Will the scarred landscape of his homeland ever recover? Bo Webb lives in West Virginia. He has asked that his letter be spread as widely as possible. Read it, and you’ll understand the urgency with which he writes. There is no “clean coal.” There is only destruction. Pass it on. — Julia Wasson Mountaintop removal for coal mining scars the landscape, destroys habitats, and threatens the health of nearby residents. […]

  8. […] had the distinct honor of meeting and speaking with Bo Webb, Mountaintop Removal Protester and Activist, outside the EPA offices in Washington DC […]

  9. Mark Dotson Says:

    Please do your part to protect our mountains. Call the power company and have them immediately disconnect your service. Do not buy and use a generator as our poor Appalachian children will have to breathe the fumes from that dirty gasoline. Get some candles and enjoy the serenity in your newly transformed home!

    • We all need power. That is why we are fighting so hard to get it from a safe and responsible source that doesn’t poison and destroy.

      The alternative sources are out there. If only the government would subsidize them like it does coal.

      The good news is that coal now only provides 43% of the nation’s electricity. Even if it provided 100%, mountaintop removal would be unacceptable.

  10. Heather Baker Says:

    Mr. Webb,
    Your letter tells a story that rings true to so many people of Applachia. I am from Eastern KY and also live in a state of constant worry and stress. My homeplace, which has been in my family for multiple generations, is also under continual attack. I am 35 years old and I cannot remember a time in my life that my family was not trying to keep some coal company off their land. My mother was a big activist against the Broad Form Deed while my father broke his body in a mines trying to provide a living for myself and my two sisters. When Moses was standing on the mountain and God told him he was standing on holy ground, I am sure we could never possibly improve upon his handiwork. I am certain that my native Appalachian mountains are holy as well. I hope to meet you at Appalachia Rising. I will be there with bells on. This has to stop. The Lord also said that those who destroy the earth will be destroyed and I truly believe that. It is our duty to be good stewards. I intend to do just that. Good luck to you and God bless.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: