Baltimore City Paper

Catherine Pancake On the Impact of Black Diamonds, Her 2006 Film About Mountaintop Removal

The devastation wrought by mountaintop-removal mining was brought into tight focus by Catherine Pancake of Baltimore (a native West Virginian), with the 2006 release of her documentary Black Diamonds: Mountaintop Removal and the Fight for Coalfield Justice, to which CP devoted a cover story that year. The film went on to win numerous awards, but probably deserved many more.

Prior to Black Diamonds, Pancake, a filmmaker and musician, was known mostly in Baltimore for helping to found the Red Room Collective, the High Zero Foundation, the Charm City Kitty Club, and the Transmodern Festival. Now she is also a celebrated truth-teller in the environmental movement, and her efforts to create understanding of mountaintop removal have paid off—with pending federal legislation, attributable to a broad awareness of the problem among activists.

The pending bill in Congress is U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin's (D-Md.) Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696), which was introduced nearly a year ago. The bill would amend the Clean Water Act to curtail the disposal of coal-mining waste into streams, and was referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works, where it has languished ever since. The National Mining Association opposes it, and an array of environmental groups supports it.

There's no way to predict when or if the committee will report the bill out for floor votes, but the fact that it has been proposed at all can safely be attributed, in part, to Black Diamonds and Pancake's hard work and dedication to getting it screened around the country.

In a recent e-mail, Pancake answered CP's questions about Black Diamonds' impact on the national discussion of mountaintop removal: