Front Porch Blog

Don’t Blast Our Homes!

“Don’t Blast Our Homes!” That’s what Wise County residents told the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy when more than 20 community members gathered outside the DMME’s office in Big Stone Gap to rally in opposition to A&G Coal’s proposed Ison Rock Ridge surface mine. “Ison Rock Ridge is families. Keep it standing!” said one picketer’s sign. Two individuals even delivered a “Certificate of Failure” to the DMME for failing to protect communities.

Residents of Inman, Derby, Arno, and Andover – communities that are directly adjacent to the pending 1,200+ acre mountain-top removal mine – took turns addressing the crowd to express their disapproval of the DMME’s apparent support for the project.

“The DMME and the state of Virginia seem to be ignoring regulations protecting our waterways. It’s a shame we have to contact Washington DC to get our state officials to obey the law,” said Jane Branham a resident of Big Stone Gap and Vice President of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), the Wise County-based community group that organized the demonstration.

Ben Hooper, a resident of Inman added, “The DMME’s not there to protect us. It’s their job to keep the coal money flowing to Richmond, not to make sure the coal is mined responsibly.”

The event was spurred because the DMME recently approved a portion of the proposed mine, despite the fact that the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers continue to hold the pending mine’s NPDES permit for review due to evidence that strip-mining of such scale invariably violates the Clean Water Act. If operated, this particular mine would destroy three miles of streams and fill nine valleys with more than 11 million cubic yards of rock and dirt. The EPA has sent a letter to the DMME reiterating that the pertinent permits remain under federal jurisdiction.

“This thing would have happened nearly three years ago if it hadn’t been for us,” declared Dorothy Taulbee, a former resident of Stonega, referring to the previous successes of SAMS’ work to preserve the communities surrounding Ison Rock Ridge. The organization was formed in 2007 and has been fighting the Ison Rock Ridge permit since the beginning. In 2008, SAMS secured meetings between community members and EPA representatives and mobilized dozens of local residents to speak out against the proposal at public hearings. These efforts led to the EPA’s intervention in the permitting process, halting the mine thus far.

On Tuesday and over the course of this week, supporters of SAMS from across the state will be visiting Senator Jim Webb’s offices in Roanoke, Virginia Beach, and Falls Church to deliver a message from coalfield residents asking for the Senator’s support in defending the communities adjacent to Ison Rock Ridge. A similar event will take place at the EPA’s region 3 offices in Philadelphia where allies of the local organization will deliver a letter thanking the agency for affording adequate scrutiny and oversight to the proposed mountaintop removal mine, and asking that the NPDES permit be ultimately denied.

SAMS supports deep-mining and other industries that provide jobs for the people of Wise County, but they say Mountaintop Removal mining favors explosives and heavy machinery to workers. SAMS is concerned about the impacts A & G’s Coal Company’s proposed mine would have on nearby streams that have already exceeded acceptable levels of pollution from mine discharge, and will regard the issuance of the Ison Rock Ridge Permit by the DMME to be in violation of the Clean Water Act. The Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards will continue to fight for the people of Appalachia and surrounding communities until the permits for the Ison Rock Ridge mine are denied once and for all.





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