Front Porch Blog

Citizen Lobbyists Converge On Washington To Push for Clean Water in Appalachia

By Marsha Johnston
A citizen participant in the Alliance for Appalachia’s annual Week in Washington

Over 200 citizen lobbyists from as far away as California and Oregon converged on Washington, DC this weekend to push Congress to pass legislation in 2010 that will put an end to mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. Our excitement built throughout the day as a series of passionate, well-organized presentations from staff members and coalfield residents inspired, shocked, informed and amused us into readiness for tackling Capitol Hill.

Deftly ironic, Mickey McCoy from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth made us laugh while presenting the horrific facts of mountaintop removal. “They have a lot of soft words for what they’re doing. Like `pond’ for slurry. We’re talkin’ 72 acres! That’s a lake. And `spill’. `Spill’ is what happens when your son reaches over the table and spills his sister’s milk. These are floods. Even mountaintop removal doesn’t sound too bad if you say it real fast. They should really be calling it `mountain bombing’.”

As new citizen lobbyists, we began doing just that.

Among several inspiring coalfield resident testimonies, Cari Moore was particularly compelling. An eighth-generation Appalachian and grand-daughter of a preacher-miner, Cari recounted how, incredibly, fellow Appalachians label her “outsider” for opposing the destruction of her family’s beloved mountains. “I try to imagine how he would react if someone said that children are breathing the same dust that gave him black lung, and I cannot imagine in my heart that he would support mountaintop removal mining,” she said. She also recounted how her community, trying to provide cleaner water by switching systems, now finds that its new system–which is closer to a mountaintop removal site–has 3 times the recommended levels of manganese instead of just 2.5 times.

Despite the money and purchased politicians behind King Coal, many presenters confessed a sense of guarded optimism. Long-time activist Lorelei Scarboro, of Coal River Mountain Watch, said she saw the momentum change with the arrival of the Obama Administration, and that we are getting more meetings with higher-level officers than ever before, who are listening. One staff member, noting that Appalachian state legislators are getting a bit desperate since the EPA said it would scrutinize MTR permits more closely, with West Virginia passing legislation naming coal the state rock.

More than once, staff members reminded us of Gandhi’s wisdom about fighting Goliath, saying we are in the last phase before winning: “First they laugh at you, then they ignore you, then they fight with you, then you win.”

Citizens will be lobbying representatives and senators Monday through Wednesday of this week. A national call-in day will take place on Tuesday, March 9. To find out how you can participate by calling your Congressperson or Senator, or to learn more about the Clean Water Protection Act or the Appalachia Restoration Act, visit iLoveMountains.org

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