On Sunday, May 13th, over 100 concerned citizens from 19 states took time out of their busy schedules to come together in Washington DC to learn more about mountaintop removal, and then how to lobby their members of Congress on legislation that would greatly curtail the amount of mountaintop removal coal mining. A variety of people from all walks of life traveled to the event, from 12 year old Amanda Baker from Great Falls, Virginia to Maribeth Meaux, a ministry assistant for the Catholic Diocese of Joliet in Illinois. The Week in Washington was sponsored by several local, regional, and national conservation groups, including Appalachian Voices.
The main focus of the lobby visits was to ask Congressional House members to co-sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act, H.R. 2169. This House Bill is aimed at revoking an administrative change to the Clean Water Act that allows coal companies to dump the overburden from mountaintop removal operations into the valleys nearby. Overburden is the resulting rubble after the coal companies plant and then set off explosives on top of the mountain, in order to be able to get at the thins seams of coal that lay below. A valley fill is created when the rubble is pushed into the valley, as a way to discard of the mining waste.
Valley fills are one of the most harmful side effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. Dumping hundreds tons of mining waste into the valleys effectively kills off the streams, many of which are the headwaters of the eastern United States. Mining waste contains many toxic chemicals and heavy metals, which, while natural, pollute the drinking water of the local communities.
Flooding is another huge repercussion of valley fills and mountaintop removal operations in general. By stripping the mountain of its trees and ground cover, removing several hundred feet of the mountain, and filling the surrounding valleys with the mining waste, the hydrology that has existed for centuries has been completely wiped out. Instead of the water being filtered slowly into the valley, creating a gentle stream, water now rushes down the mountains, turning a gentle rain into a raging flood, some which have destroyed homes, wiped out bridges, and has even taken lives.
So, starting that Monday, this dedicated group of individuals took the Capitol by storm, making over 100 lobby visits in three days, including face-to-face meeting with 20 members of Congress. For many of the participants, the Week in Washington was the first time they had so directly participating in our democratic process by lobbying their elected officials. Amanda Baker, one of younger participants, was particularly enthusiastic about being part of the week’s efforts: “The lobbying was an amazing experience for me. I think it’s important for young people to get involved with stopping Mountaintop Removal and for representatives to know that they are. They should know that this issue is not something that we are going to give up anytime soon.”
Excitement came early Monday morning, when one of the first lobby visits yielded a new co-sponsor from Virginia, Congressman Frank Wolf. Getting a commitment to co-sponsor a bill during a meeting is rare occurrence and set a promising tone for the rest of the week.
Building off that momentum, these citizen lobbyists continue to collect co-sponsors, getting commitments from 7 more members of Congress, bringing our total up to 70, by the end of the event on Thursday. Maribeth Meaux was energized by her experience; “I now know that I am part of a strong and growing group of citizens who refuse to be daunted by the enormity of the problem.... it was truly an honor to stand in solidarity with people directly affected by MTR and to join my voice with theirs…”.
As an added boost to the Week in Washington, grassroots support from outside of DC proved crucial. Several of the sponsor organizations sent out an alert to their member base, asking them to support the efforts of those in Washington by making phone calls and sending emails to their Congressional representatives.
Another highlight of the Week in Washington was a reception hosted by national groups. It was a chance for the citizen lobbyists to rub elbows with Congressional Staff in a less formal, more festive setting. The highlight of the evening was a speech given by New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, the original sponsor of the CWPA. He told the crowd to keep working to get more co-sponsors, and that if anybody needed any help, including moral support, and that he would “be available for hugs”.
The effects of the Week in Washington are still being felt on Capitol Hill, as co-sponsors, no doubt influenced by the outpouring of citizen support for the end of mountaintop removal & the Clean Water Protection Act. In the weeks following, the number of supporters for the CWPA continues to climb. At this present writing, the amount of co-sponsors is now at 82, the largest number of co-sponsors since the CWPA was first introduced in 2005, the entire previous Congress was 77, so with only 5 months under our belt in the current Congress, we are well on our way to leaving that previous total in the dust.”
Help keep the momentum going!
Please call or email your member of Congress and ask them to cosponsor the Clean Water Protection Act, H.R. 2169, which would disallow coal companies from being allowed to continue to dump mining waste from mountaintop removal coal mining operations. You can call the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 to reach your Congressional representative or you can email them through www.iLoveMountains.org under the “Take Action” tab. For more information, check out the website or call us at 877.APP.VOICE.