Citizens and Policy Riders Converge On Capitol Hill

Residents Impacted by Mountaintop Removal Visit Congress, Obama Administration

April 5, 2011

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Sandra Diaz …. (407)739-6465 ….
Dustin White….(304)541-3144…
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(Washington, D.C.) — With amendments to the federal budget bill threatening to undermine the effectiveness of the Environmental Protection Agency, citizens from Appalachia are stepping forward to ask Congress to protect their communities.

As debate over the budget continues in the Senate, over 150 citizens with the Alliance for Appalachia are converging on Capitol Hill this week to address the adverse impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining and to witness key members of Congress unveil a bill to permanently end the radical form of strip mining.

“We, the people of Appalachia, are made to give up our homes and communities, our culture and heritage, our health and even our lives so others can turn on a light bulb,” says Dustin White, a volunteer with Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “So we come to D.C. to tell Congress and our President we will no longer be ignored and we will no longer be sacrificed.”

On Tuesday, Congressmen Frank Pallone of New Jersey and David Reichert of Washington state, along with more than 50 original cosponsors, will introduce the Clean Water Protection Act, legislation to prevent the dumping of coal mine waste into valley fills—a method that buries headwater streams and contaminates nearby ground and drinking water with heavy metals and other pollutants.

“This bill alleviates the wide array of human and environmental health issues directly correlated with mountaintop removal coal mining by restoring the Clean Water Act to its original intent,” said Congressman Pallone. “By redefining fill material, we’ll be able to keep toxic mining waste out of our nation’s streams.”

Under the Obama administration, the EPA has taken steps to limit mountaintop removal mining, but several pieces of legislation—including policy amendments in the federal budget bill that would severely curtail the agency’s authority to regulate the practice—threaten the EPA’s ability to limit environmental and community health impacts.

Mountaintop removal mining relies on heavy explosives to blast off several hundred feet of mountain to expose coal seams, and has impacted over 500 mountains in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee to date. According to the EPA, the practice has also buried or destroyed more than 2,000 miles of streams in those states.

Residents who live in proximity to mountaintop removal mine sites complain of orange and black tap water flowing from their faucets, breathing in coal dust floating in the air outside their homes and higher-than-normal cancer rates.

“If we are serious about moving America toward a clean energy future, banning mountaintop removal must be the first step,” says Jane Branham of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “For our economy, for our health, and for our heritage—we need this administration and this Congress to act.”

Appalachian coal-mining regions have traditionally had high rates of unemployment, even prior to the current economic downturn, and the central Appalachian region contends with some of the highest poverty rates in the country. According to Mine Safety and Health Administration, because of the mechanized nature of mountaintop removal which replaces men with explosives and large equipment, underground mines produce more jobs than mountaintop removal mines for the same amount of coal produced.

“Americans want to see an end to the destruction of our oldest and most biologically diverse mountains, and the administration has taken limited steps towards restricting the impacts of mountaintop removal,” says J.W. Randolph, Legislative Associate for Appalachian Voices, a non-profit organization working on the issue. “Congress needs to listen to the will of the people and pass legislation that would help to end mountaintop removal, and block any legislative attempt to enshrine the practice.”

Members of the Alliance for Appalachia include: The Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Appalachian Voices, Appalshop, Coal River Mountain Watch, Heartwood, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, SouthWings, SOCM (Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment), and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Photo and Video Opportunities and Hi-Res Photos available.
Interviews available upon request