Front Porch Blog

New White House “plan” for mountaintop removal…

As always, those intrepid and resolute reporters Ken Ward Jr. and Jeff Biggers alerted us to the Obama Administration’s new plan to “deal” with mountaintop removal coal mining.

From Ken Ward Jr.’s blog:

Administration officials announced that they are taking a series of short-, medium- and long-range steps that they say will allow mountaintop removal to continue, but reduce the impacts to communities and the environment.

We think Jeff Biggers summed it up best in his article on the Huffington Post:

In an extraordinary move to disregard a 38-year rap sheet of crimes of pollution, harassment and forced removal of some of our nation’s oldest and most historic communities, and the destruction of over 500 mountains and 1.2 million acres of deciduous hardwood forests in our nation’s carbon sink of Appalachia, the Obama administration will announce today that it has decided to “regulate” mountaintop removal mining operations, not abolish them.

All well-meaning intentions aside, if the Obama administration truly wanted to “enforce” mountaintop removal regulations and protect American watersheds, drinking water, and communities from catastrophic flooding and toxic blasting, it would simply reverse a 2002 Bush and dirty coal lobby manipulation of the Clean Water Act and restore the original definition of “fill” material to no longer include mining waste.

A growing number of Congress members understands this–and even conservatives like Sen. Lamar Alexander are now shepherding the Clean Water Protection Act. See:

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and Appalachian Voices distributed a press release this afternoon which included poignant quotes from two prominent mountain-lovers in Congress, as well as their organizational leaders:

Members of Congress working to end this devastating practice through legislative means applauded the Administration’s action, but also stress that until Congress acts, mountaintop removal coal mining will continue to be a threat to Appalachian communities, mountains and streams.

“The Administration’s announcement today is a positive step forward on this important issue and will help protect waterways and communities from the devastating process of mountaintop removal,” said Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ). “However, to address the heart of the problem, Congress needs to pass the Clean Water Protection Act (HR 1310), legislation I introduced to prohibit the valleyfill process, which allows coal companies to dump toxic waste into headwater streams.”

The Clean Water Protection Act, which was first introduced in 2002, would disallow the dumping of mining waste into the valley and streams near mountaintop removal sites. A companion bill, the Appalachian Restoration Act, was introduced into the Senate earlier this year.

“Mountaintop mining is one of the most destructive practices that already has destroyed some of America’s most beautiful and ecologically significant regions,” said Senator Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee and sponsor of S. 696, the Appalachian Restoration Act. “Today’s decision by the Obama Administration to limit the practice through a stronger review of mountaintop mining permit applications is an important step in the right direction. However, it does not halt this incredibly destructive form of mining. We must put an end to this mining method that has buried more than a thousand miles of streams.”

Local groups fighting mountaintop removal in their communities also contend that until strong legislation is passed to end the practice, mountaintop removal will continue.

“We hope this will produce real change and not end up as business as usual,” said Kathy Selvage, Vice President of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards in Wise County Virginia. “But what we really need is a law to abolish mountaintop removal coal mining.”

The announcement also falls on the heels of two major events influenced by increases in mountaintop removal coal mining. Yesterday the West Virginia Supreme Court approved a second coal silo to be built less tha 100 yards from the Marsh Fork Elementary School, which rests immediately below a coal sludge dam and an expanding mountaintop removal mining site. And last month, hundreds of homes were affected by severe flooding in Mingo County, WVa, and Breathitt County, KY, exacerbated by increased run-off from mountaintop removal sites.

According to both industry and environmental groups, mountaintop removal mined coal provides less than 5% percent of our nation’s electricity.

“With coal demand down by 5% due to the recession, the administration is missing an unprecedented opportunity to replace mountaintop removal coal with new sources of energy,” said Dr. Matthew Wasson, Director of Programs at Appalachian Voices. “We’re concerned that this incremental decision-making could open the door for an even greater expansion of mountaintop removal coal mining when the recession ends and the price of coal rebounds.”

Press releases, reactions, and useful documents





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