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Film Review: The Last Mountain

Follow a group of residents-turned-activists in their efforts to save Coal River Mountain, the last one left in an area devastated by mining.


There’s a rumbling in Coal River Valley, W.Va., and it’s more than the explosives detonated by Massey Energy in mountaintop removal. A community has lived here for generations. In that time they have seen coal mining production increase, but jobs disappear. They have seen friends and family get sick and die from exposure to the toxic byproducts of coal mining. They have seen the tops of the Appalachian Mountains blown to ashes. And now they are looking for change.

The Last Mountain StillThe Last Mountain follows these residents-turned-activists in their efforts to save Coal River Mountain, the last mountain in the area not yet blown apart to extract coal. They present their evidence in thoughtful and moving interviews. In contrast, Massey CEO Don Blankenship’s proclamations are sweeping and obviously erroneous.

With millions of dollars paid to lobbyists and political campaigns, health and environmental violations ignored, and a pool of toxic sludge next to an elementary school, it’s easy to see who the bad guy is. When protesters are told they must leave Massey company property or be arrested for trespassing, activist Bo Webb states the irony succinctly: “You are trespassing on us everyday!”

The protesters have a powerful champion in Robert Kennedy Jr., who tells the story of his environmental activism beginning in childhood. He links Massey’s practices to decades of corporate environmental degradation in the United States, and emphasizes the importance of protective laws. Although it helps to have a political superhero in your corner, it’s clear that the greatest moral authority against Massey is the local people who pay the real costs of the coal giant’s operations.

The fight in Coal River Valley continues, with activists working to shift the local economy to clean energy. They hope that a view of the last mountain may one day show not a toxic wasteland, but sleek wind turbines cresting the ridge.


Alaya HarbinAyla Harbin wrote this review for The YES! Breakthrough 15, the Winter 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. Ayla is an intern at YES!

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