Story by Sarah Vig
Mountaintop removal is hard to ignore when it’s in your backyard. This is a well-known fact for Bo Webb, whose home on Cherry Pond Mountain lies near an active mountaintop removal mine. In his recent letter to President Obama, asking him to take executive action against the destructive mining practice, Webb painted a picture of how living near a mine site has dramatically impacted his life. “Outside my door,” he wrote, “pulverized rock dust, laden with diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate explosives hovers in the air, along with the residual of heavy metals that once lay dormant underground.”
Yet, in the places where mountaintop removal coal is burned to generate electricity, mountaintop removal is not happening in anyone’s backyard. The connection between flipping on a light switch and the blasting of one of the world’s oldest mountains is one not many consumers make. This year, citizens and legislators are trying to change that.
States connected to mountaintop removal are taking legislative action in an unprecedented way with the Appalachian Mountains Preservation Act (AMPA), a bill that would phase out state electrical utilities’ contracts for mountaintop removal coal. The bill, which was first introduced in the North Carolina House in 2007 by Representative Pricey Harrison (D-57), came back with serious momentum this session; not only was it reintroduced in the North Carolina House with 30 original bi-partisan co-sponsors, Senator Steve Goss (D-45) also introduced a companion bill in the North Carolina Senate. The bill was also introduced in Maryland and Georgia by Rep. Tom Hucker and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, respectively.
Since the introduction of the legislation, there has definitely been considerable pushback from coal industry lobbyists. But, according to Appalachian Voices’ North Carolina Field Coordinator Austin Hall, that could be considered one of the greatest victories of the AMPA campaign. “We’ve put utilities in a corner, and made them defend something [mountaintop removal mining] that’s indefensible,” Hall explained.
“I am firmly convinced that mountaintop removal is a moral issue that begs our hearts and minds to do the right thing,” Senator Goss said. “When this bill becomes law in North Carolina, once again we will take our place as a leader in the nation concerning environmental issues.”
Though the bill never made it to the floor in Maryland or Georgia, it is still on the table in North Carolina. A committee hearing on the bill is scheduled for April 15, 2009.
“We are part of the cycle of coal consumption, and we must take responsibility,” observed Representative Oliver, lead sponsor of the Georgia AMPA bill, which also placed a five-year moratorium on the permitting and construction of new coal-fired power plants in the state. “We need to step back and look at how we can do things differently.”
With AMPA, states have the opportunity to lead the way in creating and passing legislation that places the lives, health and safety of its citizens, as well as those of Appalachia, above the desires of coal companies and corporate interests. Or, they can blow it.
For more information on AMPA and how you can show your support, contact Austin Hall at email@example.com or visit www.ilovemountains.org/state-actions.