Blowing up the mountaintops to get out the coal
The Last Mountain will make you very, very angry.
A powerful documentary with an important agenda - saving an Appalachian mountain and the people living in the valley below - director Bill Haney's piece of advocacy journalism looks at the heavy costs of "mountaintop removal," a method of coal extraction in which tons of dynamite are used to blow a mountain wide open.
The result, in the words of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmental crusader who has been fighting alongside West Virginia locals in their battle against a giant coal company and government officials, is "a denuded moonscape." Hundreds of thousands of acres of denuded moonscape.
The Last Mountain is more than another tale of treehuggers going up against an energy behemoth and its employees (who are, understandably, happy to be employed). It's a tale of politicians in the pockets of Big Coal, of flagrant violations of environmental laws, and of small communities turned into ghost towns by pollution, flooding, and alarmingly high rates of cancer. (In one tiny hollow where the groundwater had been contaminated with heavy metals from toxic sludge, six people, children and adults, were diagnosed with brain tumors.)
The bad guys here are Massey Energy, the third-largest coal company in America, cited for more than 60,000 environmental violations between 2000 and 2006, and its former chief executive officer, Don Blankenship, who talked jobs while eliminating them. The good guys: Maria Gunnoe, a daughter and granddaughter of coal miners, who has led the charge against surface mining; Gunnoe's friends and neighbors in Boone County, West Virginia; Kennedy, and a band of scientists and activists.
But it's not as simple as bad guys and good guys. The Last Mountain, more than anything, asks us to consider where our energy comes from, and how we can bring about changes that benefit all of us and the planet we live on.