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Wikipedia entry - The Last Mountain (film)

The Last Mountain
File:TLM poster.jpg
Film poster
Directed by Bill Haney
Produced by
  • Clara Bingham
  • Eric Grunebaum
  • Bill Haney
  • Tim Hotchner
  • Stephen McCarthy
  • Jerry Risius
Edited by Peter Rhodes
Distributed by Dada Films
Release date
  • January 21, 2011 (2011-01-21) (Sundance)
  • June 3, 2011[1] (2011[1]-06-03) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Last Mountain is a 2011 documentary film directed by Bill Haney. The film explores the consequences of mining and burning coal, particularly the use of a practice known as mountaintop removal mining. The story is told through the eyes of several locals-turned-activist, who have enlisted the help of outsiders to fight against the coal industry which they claim has destroyed their air and water, and now has their sights on the last intact mountain in the region.


The Last Mountain is a feature documentary that tells the story of the fight for Coal River Mountain in West Virginia, where community members and environmental activists are pitted against a coal company in the struggle to save one of the last large mountain ranges in the area from an extreme form of coal strip mining called mountaintop removal. Instead of blowing up the mountain, and filling the valleys and streams with rubble, the locals and activists would like to build a wind farm on the mountain’s ridges. They have commissioned a study demonstrating that Coal River Mountain has a high wind potential[2] – high enough to produce 328 megawatts of electricity, which can power 70,000 homes.

The film is told from the point of view of environmental litigator and activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and several local citizen activists including Maria Gunnoe (Goldman Prize winner[3]), Bo Webb (Purpose Prize winner[4]), Ed Wiley and West Virginia based environmental attorney Joe Lovett. The coal industry’s perspective is told by the president of the West Virginia Coal Association, Bill Raney, while the infamous ex-CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, presents his views in several public forums. The film also follows the exploits of young members of Climate Ground Zero who participate in acts of civil disobedience: chaining themselves to mining equipment, climbing giant cranes, and camping out at the tops of trees in mid-winter to stop Massey Energy from demolishing the mountain.

Five hundred of Appalachia’s mountains have been flattened by mountaintop removal coal mining[5] and 2,000 miles of streams buried[6]. Experts like Senior Scientist Alan Hershkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council, former dean of the Yale School of Forestry & the Environment Gus Speth, and Vanity Fair writer and Coal River author Michael Shnayerson, put the story in political and environmental context.

The Last Mountain makes the point that the fight for Coal River Mountain, although a local story, has national and international significance. Nearly 50% of America’s electricity comes from burning coal[7], and 30-percent of that coal comes from Appalachia[8]. Burning coal is the number one cause of greenhouse gases worldwide[9].


The film takes viewers to the town of Prenter, West Virginia, in the Coal River Valley where a citizen-turned-activist Jennifer Hall-Massey explains that six of her immediate neighbors have died of brain tumors and the only thing they all have in common is well water. As reported by the NY Times[10], Hall-Massey along with 264 of her neighbors, are suing the local coal companies[11] and maintain that the companies have pumped millions of gallons of coal slurry into the ground surrounding Prenter polluting their well water with heavy metals like arsenic and lead, and causing disease.

Another citizen activist, Ed Wiley, a former mountaintop removal coal miner himself, who lives in the Coal River Valley, is trying to move his granddaughter’s school, Marsh Fork Elementary, to a safer location. The school sits several hundred feet below an earthen dam holding back 1.8 billion gallons of coal waste in a slurry pond discharged by an industrial coal preparation plant next door to the school[12]. Wiley’s granddaughter told him that the coal was making the children sick, driving Wiley to take his protest to then Governor Joe Manchin (now the U.S. Senator from West Virginia), and demand help from the state. Manchin and other West Virginia politicians argue that the state’s economy and its jobs depend on coal mining. But the film demonstrates that while coal production has increased 140%[13] due to the use of massive mining equipment and explosives, the number of jobs has decreased by 65%[14] over the last 30 years.

The film presents Don Blankenship as an antagonist. The ex-CEO of Massey Energy does not believe in climate change, believes that environmentalists are “extremists,” and continues by saying, “they are making American labor the real endangered species as they tell us that their goal is to save the planet.” Between 2000 and 2006, Massey was cited for 60,000 environmental violations[15] by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and given a fine of less than 1% of what the regulations call for[16] – and then continued to violate environmental laws 8,500 more times in the subsequent months[17].

Meanwhile, activists like Bo Webb and Lorelei Scarbro, who live in the shadow of Coal River Mountain, have organized a group of citizens to propose that instead of destroying the mountain, a sustainable wind farm be built on the mountain’s ridges instead[18] – an energy project that could power 70,000 homes with renewable energy virtually forever[19]. But Massey Energy has a permit to destroy over 6,000 acres of the mountain instead. Over time, the wind farm would provide more jobs to the community, and on day one it would pay more taxes to the county than the coal strip mine, Scarbro explains. Members of Climate Ground Zero climb trees in the blasting zone of Coal River Mountain one Winter night to sit in protest for 9 days until they are arrested for attempting to halt the destruction of this symbolic mountain[20].

While Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. maintains that “The United States is the Saudi Arabia of wind,” The Last Mountain concludes by exploring small scale wind projects which have paid for themselves within a few years, and ends with the fate of Coal River Mountain still in the balance.

See also[edit]

  • Climate Ground Zero
  • Coal River Mountain Watch
  • West Virginia Highlands Conservancy


  1. ^ "Sundance - Dad Climbs "Mountain" for June 3 Roll Out". indieWIRE. Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  2. ^ The long-term economic benefits of wind versus mountaintop removal coal on Coal River Mountain, West Virginia, Downstream Strategies, 2008.
  3. ^ North America Goldman Prize Winner Maria Gunnoe, Goldman Prize 2009.
  4. ^ Bo Webb, Encore Careers, 2010 Purpose Prize
  5. ^ National Memorial for the Mountains, Appalachian Voices, accessed 2 June, 2010.
  6. ^ EPA Issues Comprehensive Guidance to Protect Appalachian Communities From Harmful Environmental Impacts of Mountaintop Mining, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, accessed 1 April, 2010.
  7. ^ Electric Power Industry 2009: Year in Review DOE Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual, revised April 2011.
  8. ^ Coal Production and Number of Mines by State and Mine Type, DOE Energy Information Administration, accessed 2 June, 2010.
  9. ^ Trends in Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions through 2003 (via Internet Archive), Netherlands Environmental Assesment Agency, 2005.
  10. ^ Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost in Suffering by Charles Duhigg, the New York Times (Toxic Waters series), 12 Sept, 2009.
  11. ^ Boone County Residents Suing 3 Coal Companies (with video), by Elizabeth Noreika, ABC affiliate WCHS News, 23 Jan, 2009.
  12. ^ The Rape of Appalachia, by Michael Schnayerson, Vanity Fair, May 2006, pp.140-157.
  13. ^ WVa Mine Data Tonnage Reports (choose 1978), West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training. 2004./Coal Production and Number of Mines by State and Mine Type (2008) DOE Energy Information Administration. 3 Feb, 2011.
  14. ^ Data provided by DOE Energy Information Administration, 2010.
  15. ^ Massey Energy Faces Legal Challenge for Clean Water Act Violations. Sierra Club, 27 April, 2010.
  16. ^ Massey Energy to Pay Largest Civil Penalty Ever for Water Permit Violations U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 17 Jan, 2008./Massey downplays lawsuit. Associated Press, via OVEC, 15 May, 2007
  17. ^ U.S. v. Massey Energy, Civil Action No. 2:07-0299, U.S. District Court Southern District of West Virginia, December 2007.
  18. ^ Save Coal River Mountain!, Coal River Mountain Watch.
  19. ^ The long-term economic benefits of wind versus mountaintop removal coal on Coal River Mountain, West Virginia, Downstream Strategies, 2008
  20. ^ Latest Massey Tree-Sit Ends After More Than 8 Days, by Ken Ward, Jr. Charleston Gazette, 29 Jan, 2010.

External links[edit]

Category:2011 films Category:American films Category:English-language films Category:American documentary films Category:Documentary films about environmental issues Category:Mountaintop removal mining