Front Porch Blog

BOMBSHELL: RFK Jr. Testimony on Bush’s Mountaintop Removal Antics

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming held an important hearing yesterday on Bush’s 11th hour rule-making shenanigans. As most of our readers will know, one of those last minute rule changes is a repeal of the 25 year old Stream Buffer Zone rule – an important guard against the dumping of mountaintop removal mining waste into our streams – which just landed in the Federal Register today.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr gives perhaps the most significant and compelling testimony on mountaintop removal mining I have ever seen, and I hope you will take 10 minutes to watch him describe in his own words – and the words of his late father – exactly what is happening to the Appalachian Mountains.

(Unofficial transcript, beginning around 3:10)

I’ve filed very detailed testimony about some of the worst of these actions, but I just wanted to give you a real life expression of what’s going on. I flew only a few weeks ago over the Appalachian Mountains over eastern Kentucky, and West Virginia mainly, and the Cumberland Plateau. If the American people could see what I saw on that trip, there would be a revolution in this country. We are literally cutting down the Appalachian Mountains, these historic landscapes where Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett roamed. The Appalachians, Chairman, were a refuge during the Pleistocene ice age 20,000 years ago when – where I live and the district Congressman Hall represents was under 2 miles of ice at that time. The rest of North America turned into a tundra where there was no forest. And the last refuge for those forests was the Appalachian Mountains. And when the tundras and glaciers withdrew, all of America was reseeded from the seed stock in those forests. So it’s the mother forest of all north America, and that’s why it’s the most diverse and abundant temperate forest in the world. Because it’s the longest living. And today, these mining companies with the help of their indentured servants in the White House are doing what those glaciers couldn’t accomplish. What the Pleistocene Ice Age couldn’t accomplish which is to flatten the Appalachian mountains and destroys those forests. They’re using draglines, which are 22 stories high. I flew under one of them in a Piper Cub. They cost 1/2 billion dollars and practically dispense of the need for human labor.

When my father was fighting strip mining in Appalachia back in the 1960s – I remember a conversation I had with him when I was 14 years old – where he said they are not just destroying the environment, they are permanently impoverishing these communities, because there is no way that they will ever be able to regenerate an economy from these barren moonscapes that are left behind And he said they are doing it so they can break the unions. And that’s exactly what happened. When he told me that there were 140, 000 union miners in WV digging coal out of tunnels in the ground. Today there are fewer than 11,000 miners left in the state, a very few of them are unionized because the strip industry isn’t. They are taking more coal out of WV than they were in 1968, but the difference is back then at least some of that money was being left in that state for salaries and pensions and reinvestment in that communities. Today, virtually all of it is going to leaving the state and going straight up to Wall Street to the big banking houses and to the corporate headquarters of Arch Coal, Massey Coal, and Peabody Coal – mainly Massey coal and then to the big banking houses like Bank of America and Morgan which own these operations.

95% of the coal in WV is owned by out of state interests which are liquidating the state for cash, literally, using these giant machines and 2500 tons of explosives that they detonate every day, in West Virginia – the power of a Hiroshima bomb once a week. They are blowing the tops off the mountains to get at the coal seams beneath, they take these giant machines and they scrape the rock and debris and rubble into the hollows and into the adjacent river valleys. They flattened out the landscapes, they flatten out the valleys. They have already flattened 400,000 acres of the Appalachian Mountains. By the time they get done, within a decade, if this rule goes through and you don’t succeed in getting rid of it, they will have flattened 2200 miles, – an area the size of Delaware. According to EPA they have already buried 1200 miles of America’s rivers and streams, these critical headwater streams that are critical to the hydrology and to the water quality and to the abundance of wildlife and the forests and the biota of those regions. Its all illegal. You can not in the United States under the Clean Water Act dump rock, debris, and rubble into a waterway without a Clean Water Act permit and you can not get such a permit.

So, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and my good friend Joe Lovett sued the companies in federal court in front of a conservative Republican federal judge, Judge Charles Hayden, and he said during this hearing. He said to the Corps of Engineers Colonel, who was there to testify, “You know this is illegal. It says so in the Clean Water Act. How did you happen to start writing these permits to allow the companies to break the law, and engage in this criminal activity?” The Colonel answered, “I don’t know your honor, we just kind of oozed into it.” And Judge Hayden at the end of that hearing said exactly what I just said. Its all illegal, its been illegal since day one, and he enjoined all mountaintop mining. Two days from when we got that decision lobbyists for Peabody coal and Massey coal met in the back door of the Interior Dept with Gale Norton’s first deputy chief Steven J. Griles, who was a former lobbyist for those companies, and together they re-wrote they interpretation of one word of the Clean Water Act – the definition of the word “fill” to change 30 years of statutory interpretation and make it legal not just in WV, but in every state of this country to dump rock, debris, rubble, garbage, any solid material into any waterway in the united states without a Clean Water Act permit. All you need today, according to the Administration is a rubber stamp from the Corps of Engineers, which in some districts you can get through the mail or over the telephone. Now, the last vestige of protection that we had in WV was a Stream Buffer Zone law that was upheld also by Judge Charles Hayden, which said that you can’t do this if you are within 100 feet of a stream. Well this is the law today that this Administration is trying to get rid of before it leaves office to make it so there is absolutely no way – there is not a single obstacle or impediment – to these companies just coming and flattening the entire Appalachian chain.

Update: The netroots are all over this one! Please see WattHead, IGHIH, the NRDC switchboard, and DailyKos.

Update II: Great additions from Adam at Get Energy Smart, David at SolveClimate, and





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