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Despite jail time, Rock Creek man plans more MTR protests

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An activist who was arrested on Thanksgiving Day outside the Governor's Mansion says he plans more civil disobedience protests to try to force West Virginia officials to test the dust generated by blasting at mountaintop removal operations.

"We're going to continue," Climate Ground Zero leader Mike Roselle said in an interview Thursday morning.

Roselle, 59, of Rock Creek, spent five days in jail after he was arrested when he tried to leave a container of mining dust for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on the mansion porch.

In a news release, Roselle said he wanted state officials to test the dust, citing scientific studies that show residents living near mountaintop removal sites face greater risks of illness and premature death. Citizen groups are promoting legislation called the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, which would require a more detailed examination of mountaintop removal's public health effects before new permits could be issued.

Roselle, a longtime environmental activist, came to West Virginia several years ago to encourage the use of peaceful civil disobedience protests aimed at shutting down mountaintop removal operations.

Last week, Roselle initially appeared at the Capitol to deliver a jar of mountaintop removal blasting dust to the Liberty Bell replica on the north steps of the building.

When that action failed to prompt a hoped-for arrest, Roselle tried to deliver a container of the dust to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin at the Governor's Mansion around 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

"I wanted to be arrested," Roselle said. "I did everything I could, but they weren't giving me what I wanted. When I went to the Governor's Mansion, they freaked out."

Police told Roselle they could not accept such deliveries at the mansion and encouraged Roselle to instead take the material to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

But if Roselle took the material to that agency, officials there would probably not test it either, according to DEP Secretary Randy Huffman.

Huffman said that such testing would not be helpful, because of questions about where Roselle collected the dust and whether the material actually came was deposited on the ground by a surface mining blast.

Huffman said he also wasn't sure that the DEP would send inspectors out to collect dust themselves at the same location and then have it tested. He cited potential difficulty in determining the source of the dust and then trying to connect it to any possible health concerns in the community.

"You would have to formulate some kind of study with the appropriate methodology," Huffman said. "That's likely something that would be much more broad than picking up a couple of samples and seeing what is in them."

Huffman noted one effort by the DEP to look at the issue. That effort, involving a series of February 2012 air samples, reported that air quality near mountaintop removal operations in Raleigh County "was well within applicable health-based standards."

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and West Virginia University have been performing a more extensive examination of the issue.

While the scientific studies have not pinpointed the cause of the increased coalfield health risks, researchers have been focusing on air pollution generated when mine operators use explosives to blast apart hilltops and uncover coal reserves.

Among other things, that ongoing research has found higher levels of certain types and sizes of pollution particles in communities near mountaintop removal sites, indications that the dust is coming from blasting. Those researchers also have found that particulate matter collected from mountaintop removal communities was generally of a size that was more likely to prompt more of it to be deposited in human lungs than similar dust sampled from nonmining communities. And, WVU researchers exposed laboratory rats to dust from mountaintop removal mining communities, and found that the exposure appears to affect the diameter of blood vessels, which could in turn reduce blood flow.

Tomblin and other West Virginia political leaders have shown no interest in the mountaintop removal health studies, and the governor has refused to meet with citizens who wanted to discuss the issue.

Industry-funded researchers, though, have said that mine operators could take much more aggressive steps -- including more thorough mine planning and more careful mining practices -- to limit the dust generated in this process.

During his protest on Thanksgiving Day, when state officials would not accept a container of the dust he had collected, Roselle tried to leave the container on the porch of the Governor's Mansion.

State Police troopers and Capitol Police told him to take it with him. When Roselle refused, he was arrested, according to a video of the incident that was posted online and a criminal complaint filed in magistrate court. Roselle was charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Roselle still must face those charges. But he's already spent five days in jail -- more than the maximum sentence of 24 hours in jail he could face if convicted.

According to magistrate court officials, Kanawha County Magistrate Brent Hall tried to set bail for Roselle at $10,000 or 10 percent of that in cash. But, the court officials said Thursday, bail was never actually formally set, because Roselle had refused on three different occasions Thursday and Friday to be arraigned.

Roselle said that he did not want to consent to the arraignment without first consulting with his attorney, Fayetteville lawyer Tom Rist.

Rist said that he got through to South Central Regional Jail on the phone on Friday but that no jail officials were available to set up a call with Roselle. Roselle said problems with the jail phone system also hampered his efforts to consult with Rist.

Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said jail officials he talked to were not aware of any problems that would have prevented Roselle from successfully placing a call to his attorney.

After Roselle and Rist talked on Monday evening, Roselle consented to be arraigned. When he appeared before Magistrate Pete Lopez on Tuesday, Roselle was released on a personal recognizance bond, court officials said.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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