Front Porch Blog

FARCES of Coal: Apple Juice Creeks and Gatorade Streams

Remember FACES of Coal? The less than bona fide astroturfing organization whose members keep turning up on

Well, the antics continue as they’re none too pleased with the EPA these days. It seems the EPA has got it in for Apple Juice creeks and Gatorade streams. Typical right?! Far as we know, Lisa Jackson and Obama don’t yet mind Willa Wonka’s chocolate river, but we’ll keep you posted.

You see back in April, the EPA took a major step toward ending the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining when it introduced new guidance standards for new and pending surface mining permits in Appalachia. The guidance establishes a range of acceptable levels of conductivity, an indicator of the presence of salts and heavy metals, in waters below mountaintop removal operations. Levels of conductivity beyond 500 microsiemens are considered harmful and grounds for the EPA to deny mining companies a Clean Water Act permit. Levels between 300-500 microsiemens are considered suspect.

FACES of Coal doesn’t like this. Hey, they argue, Apple Juice and ‘good ol’ Gatorade have higher conductivity levels than the EPA’s limit! The fact that Apple Juice and Gatorade wouldn’t sustain life in a stream, and the fact that streams below mountaintop removal operations have been found to be dangerously toxic don’t seem to enter into FACES logic.

A new video on the FACES website explains, “We all need and expect clean water but water in streams is complicated and sadly there are some people right now who are telling us that mining pollutes our streams.”

Well, FACES wants you to know “The Truth about Stuff in Streams.”

Not the truth about heavy metals and chemicals like arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium in streams, but the truth about “stuff” in streams. Does FACES anonymity and innocuous, unscientific language ignite your trust? If not, perhaps the following statement from their video will:

“Some of the things that might be in the water from a mine site, might be iron, you might have some zinc, you might have copper, selenium,” Ben Faulkner explains to a group of young students in the FACES video. “By the way where did I get these what are these?” Faulkner asks holding up some bottles, “They’re vitamins!!! So don’t let people tell you that iron and zinc are toxic chemicals cause you got to have em. If you don’t have em in your body and you don’t take a vitamin you get sick!”

It’s almost as if the coal industry wants us to thank them for making our headwater streams a part of a balanced breakfast.

Mmmm… SeleniO’s.

FACES has other complaints as well.

They argue:
– “No evidence has been presented that uniquely correlates higher conductivity levels with coal mining or valley fills.”
– “The necessary scientific analysis, including collecting sufficient data, has not been conducted to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between conductivity and adverse effects on water quality” and;
– “EPA presents no evidence that the designated uses of these waters have been harmed.”

But unsurprisingly, there is a wealth of scientific evidence and analysis that supports EPA’s guidance.

In the opening sentence of the 2008 report, “Downstream effects of mountaintop coal mining: comparing biological conditions using family- and genus-level macroinvertebrate bioassessment tools,” the EPA notes that, “many studies have shown that coal mining activities negatively affect stream biota in nearly all parts of the globe.” The report then references five such reports and itself unambiguously proclaims “surface coal mining with valley fills has impaired the aquatic life in numerous streams in the Central Appalachian Mountains.”

Two additional, new, peer reviewed studies entitled: A Field-Based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Central Appalachian Streams (External Review Draft) and The Effects of Mountaintop Mines and Valley Fills on Aquatic Ecosystems of the Central Appalachian Coalfields (External Review Draft) have also been made available by the EPA.

As the new guidelines themselves note:

Recent studies, as well as the experiences of Appalachian coalfield communities, point to new environmental and health challenges that were largely unknown even ten years ago. Since 1992, nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been filled at a rate of 120 miles per year by surface mining practices. A recent EPA study found that nine out of every 10 streams downstream from surface mining operations were impaired based on a genus-level assessment of aquatic life.

Another federal study found elevated levels of highly toxic and bioaccumulative selenium in streams downstream from valley fills. These impairments are linked to contamination of surface water supplies and resulting health concerns, as well as widespread impacts to stream life in downstream rivers and streams. Further, the estimated scale of deforestation from existing Appalachian surface mining operations is equivalent in size to the state of Delaware. Appalachian deforestation has been linked to significant changes in aquatic communities as well as to modified storm runoff regimes, accelerated sediment and nutrient transport, reduced organic matter inputs, shifts in the stream’s energy base, and altered thermal regimes. Such impacts have placed further stresses on water quality and the ecological viability of watersheds.

Alright FACES, put that in your cup and drink it!





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