Amendments to Federal Budget Would Strip EPA’s Ability to Enforce Rules on Mountaintop Removal

February 16, 2011

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JW Randolph, Legislative Associate…202-669-3670,
Sandra Diaz, Communications Director…. 828-262-1500,
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Environmental and community groups in Appalachia are outraged by amendments to the federal budget bill that would undermine public health and environmental protection measures for Appalachian citizens and waterways achieved over the last few years by slashing budget needs of oversight agencies.

The federal budget bill H.R. 1—currently in the House of Representatives— includes four amendments that would significantly reduce the ability of federal agencies to regulate the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining and weaken the protection of the federally mandated Clean Water Act.

Amendment 109, introduced by Rep. Griffith (R-Va), would defund the EPA’s ability to evaluate mountaintop removal mining permits to ensure they meet Clean Water Act requirements, and curtail the agency’s implementation of new water quality guidance for those permits.

Amendment 216, introduced by Rep. McKinley (R-WV), would eliminate the authority given to the EPA under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to veto “dredge and fill” permits that do not meet Clean Water Act standards. Earlier this year, the EPA vetoed one of the largest mountaintop removal mining permits, Spruce Mine No. 1, when an environmental impact assessment determined the valley fills at the mine would have adverse impacts on the ecosystem and nearby communities.

“This is a blatant attempt by the coal lobby to roll back protections for Appalachian streams and communities from the devastating impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining,” said JW Randolph, Legislative Associate for environmental organization Appalachian Voices. “They’re trying to revive the polluter-friendly rules set up by the Bush Administration.”

Other amendments that would remove protections for Appalachian citizens include 219 and 220, both introduced by Rep. Johnson (R-OH). These nearly identical amendments would defund the Office of Surface Mining’s ability to enforce the proposed Stream Protection Rule.

A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that residents living in proximity to a mountaintop removal mine are more susceptible to contract life-threatening illnesses such as chronic respiratory problems, cardiovascular and kidney diseases and cancer. According to a 2010 study by Dr. Michael Hendryx, Research Director for the West Virginia University Institute for Health Policy Research, “the closer one lives to a mountaintop removal coal mine, the more likely one is to die from cancer compared to others living in the Appalachian region generally, even when factors such as poverty and smoking are accounted for.”

“It is unfortunate that our newly elected member of Congress, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), has sided so quickly with the coal industry of southwest Virginia,” said Sam Broach, President of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, a community non-profit based in Appalachia, Va. “The last thing we need to do is tie the hands of the EPA. If this amendment is successful, it will mean less protection for mountain communities, less protection for clean water and will lead to more destruction of our mountains.”

“The attempts by a few members of Congress to undermine what science has already proven, that mountaintop removal puts Appalachians’ health at risk, is appalling and calls for immediate action,” said Chuck Nelson of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, a state-wide organization. “Our federal government has the burden, and responsibility, to protect all it’s citizens.”  

Mountaintop removal mining is not the only activity threatened by deregulation in the bill. Two similar amendments to the federal budget would remove the EPA’s funding to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste, including amendment 10 by Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida and the more stringently worded amendment 217, introduced by Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia.

The amendments to H.R. 1 could be voted on as early as today.


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