Trees On Fire

Article Published: Oct. 28, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Trees On Fire

It's funky. It's rocky. It's alternative.

It's Trees on Fire, and they're on fire for a cause.

"I think it's always safe if you're talking about a genre, to throw out the word alternative," guitarist Bob Mezzanotte said.

To Mezzanotte and the rest of TOF (Paul Rosner, Blake Hunter, Justin Esposito and Brian Wahl), it's not just about the music. It's also about making a difference.

"We're basically 20 something-year-olds, so we're at the point in time where we're in the position of being adults," he said. "We're just kind of looking at things and being like, damn, what's going on here?"

Mountaintop coal removal is the latest issue Trees has been fired up about.

"It's a big thing," he said.

To the crew, who calls Charlottesville, Va., its home, MCR is an issue that's always present.

"We live right here," he said. "We live down the way from where a bunch of it is going on."

It's part of the reason they're in Boone. They'll be playing in conjunction with Appalachian Voices, a group who knows a lot about MTR.

"The area that we're concerned with is considered to be central Appalachia, which is basically the coal fields in western Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and a little bit of that northwest corner of Tennessee," Appalachian Voices' Lenny Kohn said.

Those are the areas where MCR is commonly practiced.

"It's classified as a form of strip mining but it's much more extreme," he said. "The mountains are close together and they have very narrow valleys between them. When a mountain is being considered for this ... they will level the top off with a bulldozer and take a core sample."

Those samples can be several hundred feet deep and allow the driller to see where the seams of coal are in the rock.

"Let's say they did a core sample and saw that the first seam of coal that they wanted to get was 100 feet below the surface," Kohm said. "They would drill these holes about 30 inches in diameter and pack them full of explosives ... and they literally just blow the top off the mountain and expose that seam of coal."

It's not just about the mountains that AV believes are defaced by the practice.

"The rubble and waste from that explosion pushes toward the valleys," he said, and lands in streams and other ecosystems.

"In west Virginia alone, they've probably covered up about 1,200 miles of stream beds," Kohm said.
The exposed coal is scraped off of the mountain and loaded into trucks.

Currently, strip mining is now permitted in North Carolina. AV says it's still something North Carolina needs to be concerned about. Why? Because North Carolinians use the coal.

Take Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation. According to spokesman Renee Whitener, their coal supplier is Duke Energy.

"We're estimating 25 percent of the generation that we have is coming from mountaintop removed coal supply," Duke spokesman Erin Culbert said.

While both companies are researching other options, the price difference between mountaintop removed coal and traditionally mined coal is what keeps them using the product.

"And almost all of our boilers are designed to use central Appalachian coal," Culbert said.

MCR is a cheaper practice than traditional mining. While BREMCO and Duke are active in energy conservation education and promotion of alternative energies, the spokespersons don't anticipate MCR to go away anytime soon.

That's why AV is trying to educate the public as to what the practice entails.
"We're educating and getting people involved in this issue and trying to put a stop to it in whatever way we can think of," Kohn said.

Trees on Fire plays Galileo's (1087 W. King St.) on Thursday, Nov. 4.

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