Posts Tagged ‘Mountaintop Removal’

Obama pulls the plug on mountaintop removal study

Monday, July 28th, 2014 - posted by thom

Blasting mountains apart sends heavy metals and particulate matter into the air, putting people at risk. So why did the Obama administration pull the plug on research into mountaintop removal’s health impacts?

There are over 20 peer-reviewed scientific studies demonstrating a link between mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia and severe health impacts. Dozens of researchers have found correlations between proximity to mountaintop removal mines and elevated rates of cancer, birth defects, and respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

For those of you paying attention to the issue, none of this is news.

What should have been news was a groundbreaking study from the U.S. Geological Survey showing a causal link between mountaintop removal mining activities and specific types of air pollution which are causing some of these health problems. USGS researchers had been working on collecting data for the past two years, and according to USGS chemist Bill Orem, the “data is pretty startling.” According to Orem, the data is “compelling enough that a more targeted health study needs to be conducted in these areas.”

But the Obama administration pulled the plug on the research, and did so very quietly, redirecting funding to other work. The Obama administration had an opportunity to do something big to end mountaintop removal, but stopped short.

One of more than 20 previous studies shows people living near the destruction are 50% more likely to die of cancer.

One of more than 20 previous studies shows people living near the destruction are 50% more likely to die of cancer.

You could make the argument that the new study was largely unnecessary. Between the existing health studies and water impact studies, the administration would be entirely justified in placing an immediate moratorium on issuing new mountaintop removal mining permits. But since the administration has not had the spine to take strong actions yet, we need more tools to pressure them to do the right thing. The USGS research would have been an amazing tool for that purpose.

When President Obama first took office, he made a commitment that his agencies would always act on what the science dictated. I guess the way around taking actions, then, is to stop the science from ever being completed.

There’s a MoveOn.org petition asking the president to restore the funding for the research. Please sign and share.

Today, Congress has to learn about mountaintop removal

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 - posted by thom
Appalachian Voices' program director Matt Wasson has been invited to testify on Capitol Hill today.

Appalachian Voices’ program director Matt Wasson has been invited to testify on Capitol Hill today.

Appalachian Voices’ program director Matt Wasson is testifying before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Environment and the Economy today. The hearing, with the crowd-grabbing title, “Modernizing the Business of Environmental Regulation and Protection,” includes a fascinating group of witnesses.

State regulators from Arizona, Arkansas, and Massachusetts will inform the subcommittee about state efforts to incorporate technology in their environmental regulatory endeavors to be more efficient and improve transparency. Bill Kovacs, from the pro-business, anti-regulation group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will speak about the problems of red tape and slow permitting. Our friend and ally, Scott Slesinger, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, will also be testifying, fortunately, and will speak about the importance of technology to providing improved environmental outcomes.

Matt will take this opportunity to talk about mountaintop removal coal mining, coal ash, and the failure of regulators to stop the ongoing crisis in Appalachia.

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Appalachian Voices has been using technology to improve citizen involvement in environmental regulation and policy-making for years. Among many examples, we introduced the Human Cost of Coal, an interactive map emphasizing the correlations between mountaintop removal mining and health and socioeconomic problems in Appalachia

It’s important that Congress not look at technology purely from the standpoint of improved “customer service” for industry. Cutting red tape is important, and providing transparency and clarity for companies is essential to a properly running economy.

But just as important to the economy is real enforcement of environmental laws. From Matt’s written testimony: (His shorter oral testimony can be found here.)

“We caution, however, that an approach that focuses on streamlining environmental permitting at the expense of protecting human health and natural resources would not only risk failure of the very mandate that our regulatory agencies were created to fulfill, but would be economically short-sighted as well. For instance, a few weeks ago, researchers at the US Geologic Survey published a study that found a 50 percent decline in the number of fish species and a two-thirds decline in the total number of fish in streams below mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia’s Guyandotte River drainage. This, combined with the fact that the sportfishing industry creates far more jobs than surface coal mining in all states where mountaintop removal occurs, demonstrates how allowing continued degradation of water quality in order to simplify permitting for coal companies is the very definition of “penny wise and pound foolish.”

The House of Representatives has made clear over the past few years that members prefer not to talk about mountaintop removal coal mining. They would rather just lambast the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama administration for any actions they take to protect the Appalachian people from the ongoing pollution that is destroying forests, streams, mountains and communities.

But today, Appalachian Voices is testifying before Congress. And that means, whether members like it or not, they are going to have to hear about the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining.

Great News for Clean Water in Virginia!

Friday, July 18th, 2014 - posted by eric

A two-headed trout deformed by selenium pollution.

Last week a federal judge upheld a previous decision requiring a Virginia coal company to get a permit for their discharges of toxic selenium.

Selenium is a mineral that is extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic life at very low levels. It is commonly discharged from many coal mines and coal ash ponds. Even in small amounts, selenium causes deformities, reproductive failure and even death in fish and birds. Even though its toxic effects and prevalence in coal mine discharges are well known, this is the first mine in Virginia that will be required to monitor and obtain a permit for its selenium discharges.

Water testing done by Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) revealed that A&G Coal Corporation’s Kelly Branch Surface Mine was discharging selenium in toxic amounts. So in 2012, Appalachian Voices, SAMS and the Sierra Club, represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed suit against A&G for illegal discharges of selenium.

EPA is currently revising their national standards for selenium. If implemented, their new draft standards will make it more difficult for citizens groups protect streams they care about through legal actions like this one.

A&G Coal Company is owned by billionaire, frequent political campaign contributor and coal baron James Justice.

Last year, a federal judge ruled in our favor and ordered A&G to begin daily selenium monitoring and to apply for a permit from the Commonwealth of Virginia to cover its selenium discharges. A&G appealed that decision with the support of a number of industry groups including the National Mining Association, the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance, the Virginia Mining Association, the Virginia Mining Issues Group, the American Petroleum Institute and several others. That appeal failed last week.

A&G claimed that their current water discharge permit provided them a “permit shield.” Basically, since they were meeting the terms of their current permit, they were shielded from any liability for other water pollution not included in that permit.

In his decision federal district judge James P. Jones disagreed. The decision states that the validity of a “permit shield” is a two-prong test, requiring that a permittee disclose the presence of the pollutant in its permit application, and that the state agency considers that pollutant. If you fail one prong then you lose the shield. In this case A&G never disclosed the presence of selenium in their permit application, and there is no evidence that Virginia considered selenium pollution, so the company failed both parts of the test. The decision concludes:

To allow the [permit shield] defense in these circumstances would tear a large hole in the [Clean Water Act], whose purpose it is to protect the waters of Appalachia and the nation and their healthfulness, wildlife, and natural beauty.

Today’s court decision and what it means for Appalachia

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - posted by thom

good_day_for_mtns2

Today was a big day for those fighting to end mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia.

A federal appeals court has reaffirmed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when reviewing Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop removal mines. The court also ruled that the EPA’s guidance on conductivity is not a final rule and therefore is not subject to legal challenge.

Read a statement from Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons.

In 2009, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers began an Enhanced Coordination Process for permitting valley fills associated with large-scale mountaintop removal mining. The process encouraged improved coordination between the two agencies and greater scrutiny of the environmental impacts of each valley fill permit before them.

But as you probably know, the environmental impacts of valley fills are inherently damaging. Just last week, a major study from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that headwater streams beneath valley fills in southern West Virginia had two-thirds fewer fish than normal streams. Keep in mind that those Appalachian streams are the headwater streams for the drinking water of millions of Americans. Appalachian Voices was also curious about the potential economic impacts of coal pollution and found that there are a lot more jobs supported by the sportfishing industry in Appalachia than surface coal mining jobs — about seven times as many.

The second part of the court decision was related to the EPA’s guidance on conductivity. Conductivity is a measure of metals and salts in water, and elevated levels are toxic to aquatic life. The USGS study also confirmed that conductivity levels below mountaintop removal valley fills are almost always elevated, damaging waters throughout the region.

The EPA released its guidance on conductivity pollution just over four years ago. At the time, then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claimed that “either no or very few valley fills are going to meet standards like this.”

In order to “end coal mining pollution,” as she put it, the EPA was going to use its authority to restrict mountaintop removal valley fills, and thus significantly reduce the amount of mountaintop removal mines in Appalachia. While the guidance would not have put a much-needed permanent end to mountaintop removal, it was an enormous step.

The coal industry fought the guidance with everything that had. Their allies on Capitol Hill held hearings to put political pressure on the EPA to stand down, while industry lawyers simultaneously took the agency to court.

Two years after the guidance had been proposed, it was thrown out by a U.S. District Court. With one bad court decision, EPA’s job to end coal mining pollution was made a lot harder.

Meanwhile, the EPA Region 4 office, which oversees Clean Water Act permitting for Kentucky and other southeastern states, has been ignoring both the guidance and the rigorous science on which it was based. They continue to approve permits for valley fills, including six at one massive mine that got the agency’s OK just last year.

But on Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals turned the tables. The panel of judges concluded that the guidance stands, as it is not a final rule, and therefore is not subject to legal challenge. Furthermore, they confirmed, and in fact encouraged, the EPA’s enhanced coordination process.

The EPA has the legal authority, scientific evidence, and moral obligation to block every mountaintop removal valley fill permit that comes through its doors. We all share the responsibility of making sure it does just that.

Learn more about Appalachian Voices’ work to end mountaintop removal.

Court sides with EPA on science-based mountaintop removal permitting

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - posted by brian
A federal appeals court reaffirmed EPA's authority to coordinate with other agencies to apply science throughout the mountaintop removal permitting process.

A federal appeals court sided with the EPA today on mountaintop removal permitting.

In a major victory for Appalachia and clean water advocates, a federal appeals court has reaffirmed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when reviewing Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop removal mines. The court also ruled that the EPA’s guidance on conductivity is not a final rule and therefore is not subject to legal challenge. Read the court’s decision here.

More on today’s decision and what it means for Appalachia.

The three-judge panel rejected a 2012 ruling that the EPA overstepped its authority by pursuing an enhanced permitting process for certain mountaintop removal proposals. Today’s ruling sends the lawsuit back to U.S. District Court.

A statement from Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons:

“The court’s ruling today is as clear as the science indicting mountaintop removal coal mining, and it affirms what advocates working to end the destruction of Appalachian mountains and streams have been saying for years.

“Overwhelming evidence of the toll mountaintop removal takes on water quality, wildlife and human health continues to emerge. Still, mountaintop removal permits are being approved with disregard for the basic science behind EPA’s conductivity guidance. The ruling should be a signal to states and the EPA to begin truly following that science. And it’s common sense that the agency coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make sure the science is applied throughout the permitting process.”

This month, yet another study pointing to the destructive impact mountaintop removal was released, adding to the body of science state and federal agencies should apply to the permitting process.

Learn more about Appalachian Voices’ work to end mountaintop removal.

One fish, two fish … Dead fish

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 - posted by matt

USGS Study: Mountaintop Removal Decimates Fish Populations in Appalachia

onefish_twofish

A study from researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published this month provides strong new evidence that mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia is devastating downstream fish populations.

That’s hardly news for long-time followers of the controversy surrounding mountaintop removal, a coal mining practice that involves blowing off the tops of mountains to access thin seams of coal and dumping the waste into valleys below. In 2010, a group of 13 prestigious biologists published a paper in Science, the nation’s premier scientific journal, that found:

“Our analyses of current peer-reviewed studies and of new water-quality data from WV streams revealed serious environmental impacts that mitigation practices cannot successfully address… Clearly, current attempts to regulate [mountaintop removal mining] practices are inadequate.”

The authors of the study published last week found a 50 percent decline in the number of fish species and a two-thirds decline in the total number of fish in streams below mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia’s Guyandotte River drainage. They made this important contribution to the science by using rigorous methodology to isolate several types of water pollution most likely to have caused these staggering declines.

But a more important contribution of the study may be that it draws the focus of water pollution impacts away from mayflies and other aquatic insects and onto a far more popular and charismatic organism that not only is important to rural people’s way of life, but supports a multi-billion dollar sportfishing industry in Appalachia.

Tellingly, industry spokespeople contacted by local reporters did not dispute the science as they typically have in the past. Those that didn’t dodge reporters entirely were quick to change the subject to the purported benefits of mountaintop removal to create more flat land for industrial and commercial development (in a region where less than 10 percent of the more than 1 million acres of mountains that have already been flattened has been used for economic development).

This muted response is in stark contrast to the coal industry’s response to previous science linking mountaintop removal to the loss of aquatic insects downstream from mine sites. The “EPA puts mayflies ahead of jobs” or “pests over people” became the rallying cries of coal industry supporters when the EPA first began bringing science back into the permitting process in 2009.

One suspects that the coal industry knows it isn’t likely to win a “jobs vs. fish” debate with America’s 33 million anglers.

Widespread damage to fish populations could also be important from the pocketbook perspective that political leaders in Kentucky and West Virginia take seriously. According to data [PDF] from the American Sportfishing Association, recreational fishing creates a lot more jobs than mountaintop removal does in the states where it occurs:

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In fact, sportfishing accounts for more than 12,000 jobs in Kentucky, which is more than the entire coal mining workforce in the state, including all underground and surface miners, coal preparation plant workers and industry office workers combined. Moreover, unlike coal, sportfishing is a growing industry in Appalachia — the number of jobs it created in West Virginia more than tripled between 2001 and 2011.

Of course, even if “jobs vs. fish” were a popular argument, it would be just as false a narrative as “pests over people.” Declines in populations of both fish and aquatic insects are important indicators of declining health of an ecosystem on which all organisms depend, including people. The “ecological indicator” theory is consistent with the dozens of scientific studies published in the last few years that show communities near mountaintop removal mines suffer poor health outcomes ranging from high rates of cancer, respiratory illness, heart disease and birth defects to low life expectancies that are comparable to those in developing nations like Iran, Syria, El Salvador and Vietnam.

Thus, the USGS study is an important contribution to the debate about mountaintop removal for anyone concerned about recreational fishing, human health or the economy of Appalachia. Hopefully that’s everybody.

It’s also a very timely contribution because it turns out that the EPA and other federal agencies are right now grappling with important rules to protect streams that will determine whether the pollution that leads to the kinds of declines in fish populations seen by the USGS researchers will be allowed to continue.

The study found that waters downstream from mountaintop removal mines contained elevated levels of two forms of pollution that the researchers believe could account for the declines in fish populations: conductivity and selenium. Conductivity is a measure of metals and salts in water, and elevated levels are toxic to aquatic life. Selenium has caused grotesque deformities in larval fish ranging from s-curved spines and double-headed larvae to fish with both eyes on the same side of their heads.

A two-headed trout deformed by selenium pollution. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A two-headed trout deformed by selenium pollution. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This study should serve as a wake-up call to federal regulators that have been steadily backsliding from the Obama administration’s initial commitment to put science first in agency decision-making and to rein in the widespread damage from mountaintop removal mining. That backsliding has been particularly evident at the EPA’s Region 4 headquarters in Atlanta, which oversees Clean Water Act permitting for a number of southeastern states including Kentucky.

Enforcement officials at Region 4 have not incorporated the science and recommendations developed by the EPA for the guidance on conductivity since it was announced by previous EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in 2010. At the time, Jackson predicted the new guidelines would allow “few, if any, valley fills” to be permitted. Since then, valley fills — debris piles composed of the soil and rock that formerly made up the mountaintops of Central Appalachia — have continued to be approved by Region 4, including a massive new mountaintop removal permit with six valley fills that was approved last year.

Region 4 officials also recently approved a weakening of Kentucky’s standards for chronic selenium levels in streams, allowing the state to permit levels high enough to cause reproductive failure in some fish. Worse, at the federal level, the EPA recently released a draft revision to its nationwide selenium rule that is likely to be all but impossible to enforce. That’s a particular problem in states like Kentucky that have proven time and again to be incapable of enforcing rules on the politically powerful coal industry without citizen groups intervening. Here’s what the Lexington Herald-Leader had to say about the state’s “failure to oversee a credible water monitoring program by the coal industry”:

“In some cases, state regulators allowed the companies to go for as long as three years without filing required quarterly water-monitoring reports. In other instances, the companies repeatedly filed the same highly detailed data, without even changing the dates. So complete was the lack of state oversight it’s impossible to say whether the mines were violating their water pollution permits or not.”

Fortunately, the administration has an opportunity to take meaningful action to protect Appalachian streams this winter, when the Office of Surface Mining is scheduled to release a draft Stream Protection Rule to replace the outdated Stream Buffer Zone rule promulgated more than 30 years ago.

The message for the Obama administration from all this is that they are doing nobody any favors by taking half-measures to protecting water quality in Appalachia. When important recreational fish populations, a growing sector of the Appalachian economy and the health of Appalachian people clearly depend on strong water quality protections, the president’s spirit of compromise should not extend to compromising on science.

Here’s what you can do: tell President Obama to instruct his agencies to draft a strong Stream Protection Rule that will prohibit mining near streams and protect the health of people, fish and the economy of Appalachia. Take action here.

Community Impacts of Controversial Coalfields Expressway Project 
in Va. to Receive Thorough Review

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 - posted by cat

Contact: 

Jane Branham, Southern Appalachia Mountain Stewards, samsva@gmail.com, (276) 565-6167 

Deborah Murray, Southern Environmental Law Center, dmurray@selcva.org, (434) 977-4090 

Marley Green, Sierra Club, marley.green@sierraclub.org, (276) 639-6169 

Adam Beitman, Sierra Club, adam.beitman@sierraclub.org, (202) 675-2385 

Kate Rooth, Appalachian Voices, kate@appvoices.org, (434) 293-6373

Appalachia, VA — The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has announced that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be required to conduct a full environmental review for a controversial 26-mile section of the Coalfields Expressway that would run through Wise, Dickenson, and Buchanan counties in southwest Virginia. Community groups in southwest Virginia and conservation organizations applaud the decision.

VDOT fundamentally changed the route and the nature of this section of the Coalfields Expressway when it partnered with coal companies to allow mountaintop removal mining as part of the project and failed to prepare a comprehensive analysis of its impacts on the community. The environmental study that FHWA is requiring must evaluate the public health and environmental harms of the proposal and examine a full suite of alternatives.

More than 85,000 citizens sent comments to VDOT and FHWA expressing their concerns about the harm that mountaintop removal mining associated with this project would have on drinking water, community health, and quality of life. Local citizens are also worried that the altered route would eliminate the economic benefits promised to the community because it would bypass local businesses, and the associated impacts from mining would detract from a growing tourism industry.

Three federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also urged FHWA and VDOT to prepare a comprehensive analysis that considers alternatives and evaluates the social, economic and environmental impacts of the mountaintop removal mining which is integral to the project.

“This decision is good news for the people of southwestern Virginia,” said Jane Branham, vice president of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “We are pleased that FHWA and VDOT will take a hard look at the irresponsible and destructive mining practices that have already hurt our communities and that would be part of this ill-conceived strip mine/highway proposal.”

“We look forward to seeing a thorough review of the environmental consequences of this project, including an analysis of a range of highway alternatives that do not depend on mountaintop removal coal mining,” said Deborah Murray, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The decision-makers must keep in mind the original purpose and need of the project –serving the local communities.”

“VDOT now has the opportunity to take a fresh, honest look at this project,” said Marley Green, a Wise County resident and Sierra Club organizer in Virginia. “We have the chance to figure out the best ways to improve transportation access and diversify our struggling mountain economy.”

“The decision made by Federal Highways is a critical one. Mountaintop removal coal mining has had a devastating impact on communities in southwest Virginia, and now the state will be required to examine this road fully before spending our tax dollars on a deal that only helps coal companies rather than the community,” said Kate Rooth, campaign director with Appalachian Voices. “Now, local business owners, landowners, and citizens whose clean drinking water would be impacted can help VDOT design a project to truly benefit Central Appalachia.”

>> Click here for more background

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About Southern Appalachia Mountain Stewards: Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) is an organization of concerned community members and their allies who are working to stop the destruction of our communities by surface coal mining, to improve the quality of life in our area, and to help rebuild sustainable communities. www.SAMSva.org

About the Southern Environmental Law Center: The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC’s team of about 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

About Sierra Club: The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. www.SierraClub.org

About Appalachian Voices: Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental non-profit committed to protecting the natural resources of central and southern Appalachia, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C. with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Knoxville, Tn. and Washington, D.C. www.AppVoices.org

O, to have the bully pulpit of Congress

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 - posted by thom

rahallBeing a member of Congress has its perks.

If I were a congressman, I think my favorite thing to do would be to have lobbyists buy me expensive lunches. My second favorite thing would be to introduce unreasonable legislation that had zero chance of ever passing. You see, our elected reps get to stand up for whatever industry they prefer, or whichever issue is closest to their heart. This Congress has only passed about 1% of the bills that have been introduced, so if a bill fails, it’s no big deal.

For example, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) prefers to introduce bills dealing with issues he cares a lot about. And Rahall really, really wants coal companies to be allowed to dump their mountaintop removal waste into West Virginia’s streams. See, the Environmental Protection Agency has been issuing fewer permits for valley fills, and without those, it’s harder for mountaintop removal mines to span thousands of acres.

What’s worse, in Rahall’s eyes, is that the EPA once used its power afforded by the Clean Water Act to veto the permit for Spruce mine, a planned 2,200-acre mine in West Virginia. The plan was to bury six miles of high quality streams with more than 100 million cubic yards of coal mine waste. But then the EPA came in and determined that the mine would pose an unacceptable risk to water quality, wildlife and Appalachian communities. After years in court, the EPA’s veto authority has been upheld, and the mine has been stopped.

In response, Rahall just introduced the “Regulatory Certainty Act of 2014” to confront the EPA’s “increasing aggression against West Virginia coal mining,” and to check the agency’s “ideological zeal.” In more technical terms, the legislation would change the Clean Water Act to take away the EPA’s ability to veto a valley fill permit after an absurdly short 30-day window.

Rahall seems to believe that the EPA is running wild with these vetoes, destroying the U.S. economy in the process. But consider the following: the EPA has had veto power over 404 permits since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. In the past 42 years,it has used this veto power exactly 13 times. There are hundreds of permit applications filed with the EPA every year for purposes ranging from mining to road construction, and the agency has issued a veto less than once every three years. The Obama administration has actually only used its veto authority once. Once!

It doesn’t seem to matter to Rahall that the EPA’s veto authority is a rarely used tool designated for extreme cases. The very possibility that the EPA could stop the biggest, baddest, most destructive mines from plundering Appalachia is apparently too much for him to stomach.

So. instead of standing idly by, Rep. Nick Rahall is wielding his power as a veteran United States congressman by introducing a bill to strip the EPA of its preemptive and retroactive veto power under the Clean Water Act.

The result? Another sheet of paper in a stack of hopeless bills written for political points.

Take Action: Protect Appalachian Streams from Toxic Selenium

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014 - posted by eric

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed new national recommended water quality criteria for selenium. Because these new standards are weaker and more complex than the current standards, they pose a major threat to the health of streams in coal-impacted communities.

Selenium is a pollutant released from many mountaintop removal coal mines in Appalachia that is extremely toxic to fish at very low levels. Over time, it builds up in fish and other aquatic organisms leading to reproductive failure, deformities and death.

The EPA’s proposed standards are too weak to be protective of aquatic life. Studies have shown negative effects of selenium at levels half as high as the fish tissue standards proposed by the agency. These standards are even weaker than those proposed by the EPA in 2004, which were withdrawn after public comments from agencies and scientists demonstrated that they would not protect aquatic life.

A table of current and proposed EPA selenium standards. Click to enlarge.

By partially basing the standards on fish tissue sampling, the EPA has created a significant burden for citizens and agencies trying to enforce the limits on selenium pollution. Fish tissue sampling will be more expensive and time consuming, and it will require special permits for collecting fish. This is especially problematic in Appalachia, where selenium standards have primarily been enforced through citizen actions. These standards will be more difficult to enforce, and will just lead to more streams being degraded.

Tell the EPA not to weaken Selenium Standards

Please take a few minutes to email ow-docket@epa.gov with the subject line “Attention Docket No. EPA-HQ-OW-2004-0019”, and let them know that we need strong water based standards for selenium, that will protect all aquatic life. The comment period has been extended through July 28, 2014.

On Capitol Hill, Appalachian citizens make the case against mountaintop removal

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014 - posted by Marissa Wheeler
Appalachian citizens walk into the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency meet with officials about mountaintop removal coal mining and protecting clean water. Photo by Joanne Hill.

Appalachian citizens walk into the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency meet with officials about mountaintop removal coal mining and protecting clean water. Photo by Joanne Hill.

Last week, Appalachian Voices and Earthjustice brought a team of Appalachian residents to Washington, D.C., to lobby members of the U.S. House of Representatives to cosponsor the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 1837).

The events of this lobby week — including meetings with 24 House offices, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement — paved the way for progress as we reminded our public officials that mountaintop removal is an urgent and even life-threatening issue for communities across Appalachia.

Representatives from Earthjustice also met with congressional appropriators to argue against amendments that would restrict federal agency action on mountaintop removal.

Representing five different organizations within the Alliance for Appalachia, our lobbying team sought to provide a comprehensive look at the environmental devastation and socioeconomic distress in Appalachia resulting from mountaintop removal coal mining. A representative from Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) mentioned the nearly $75 billion in annual healthcare costs attributed to coal pollution.

On the subject of unequal access to clean drinking water, one member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth pointed out that during the national coverage of the Charleston, W.Va., chemical spill in January, very few commentators asked why 300,000 people in nine different counties shared a single water system. The answer: Local wells were already contaminated by the chemical byproducts of mountaintop removal mining.

Another member of KFTC shared her opinion from more than two decades of work in surface mining regulation that the rules and standards set by state agencies simply aren’t doing enough to protect the land and water from serious damage. Further, members of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and the Coal River Mountain Watch called for federal oversight in surface mining operations in order to reduce environmental destruction and restore clean drinking water to some of the nation’s most impoverished counties and municipalities.

As a result of our lobbying efforts, five new representatives joined the Clean Water Protection Act by the end of the week, bringing the total to 91 cosponsors. These new additions to the bill were Lloyd Doggett (D-TX35), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA47), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY4), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA40), Paul Tonko (D-NY20), and Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI1). Encouraged by this success, we hope to gain even more support in the House as we continue to defend Appalachians’ right to clean water.