Entry for May 29, 2007

Illustration from lobby day package.

Larry Bush says that all his life he had never failed to catch minnows for bait in the creek below his home and now everything’s dead due to the mine waste. The Vietnam veteran, who stresses he’s no relation to the president, worked first as a coal miner and then as a federal mine inspector. He knows there are less destructive ways to mine thin coal seams than so-called mountaintop removal (MTR), ways that would provide more jobs in the southern mountains and still provide the coal companies with generous profits. He also says that because he knows mining law, he’s filed numerous complaints on violations, all to no avail.

Coal states have failed to enact and/or enforce sufficient legislation to protect its citizens from the ravages of MTR. Federal legislators from the coalfields refuse to strengthen laws and reign in the coal operators. Often members of their state delegations defer to their judgement as to what is best for their constituents, as do many legislators in other parts of the nation. That’s why more than one hundred people from 19 states gathered during the second annual Mountaintop Removal Week May 12-16 in Washington, D.C. As a first step, this year they sought and gained new co-sponsors for the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 2169), urging Congress, “They’re blowing up our mountains; there ought to be a law.”

Larry Bush drove the 7 ½ hours from his home in Appalachia, Virginia with fellow Wise County residents in the recently-formed Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS– website). They shared their firsthand stories about the effects of MTR, joined by other coalfield residents from groups such as WV’s Coal River Mountain Watch, TN’s Save Our Cumberland Mountains and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. Also traveling to Washington were former coalfield residents and other advocates for the mountains, the environment and social justice.

MTR has destroyed over 2500 peaks in Southern Appalachia for a small yield of coal. MTR generates less than 5% of the country’s electric power, power which could be easily recouped through conservation. MTR has buried over 1,200 miles of headwater streams in toxic rubble, affecting the Southeast’s watershed. This “strip-mining on steroids” destroys not only mountains, health and culture; it destroys the potential for the generation of sustainable wind power.

While the Clean Water Protection Act will not eliminate MTR, it will reverse a 2002 Bush administration rule by the Army Corps of Engineers which allows mining waste to be classified as “fill.” The Act will thus restore the original intent of the 1977 Clean Water Act, which barred industries from dumping waste into waterways. Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced the measure May 3, 2007 with Christopher Shays (R-CT) and 61 other co-sponsors including Jim Moran (D-VA), Heath Shuler and Brad Miller (D-NC), Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Ben Chandler and Jim Yarmuth (D-KY). John W. Olver (D-MA) added his name on May 10.

After training on May 13, the citizen lobbyists worked from the parish hall of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation at 212 East Capitol Street, two blocks east of the US Capitol. Their 100-plus meetings with Congressional offices included 20 face-to-face sessions with Congress members. Co-sponsor Ben Chandler heartened a large contingent on May 15 when he spoke about his connection his family’s land and his willingness to not only support the Clean Water Protection Act, but to sponsor a complete overhaul of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) as soon as the national environmental groups were ready to support the effort. By contrast Rick Boucher (D-VA)’s Chief of Staff Laura Vaught reiterated Boucher’s position that to a large group that MTR was a “hot-button” issue because of the potential loss of jobs. Boucher’s position contradicts that of many who maintain that as mining jobs dwindle, especially in the case of MTR, the coal industry is actually blocking alternate economic development. CensusMapper, a joint venture of Stratamodel, Inc. and Techbase International Ltd., reports that while “Appalachian counties produced billions of dollars worth of coal in 2003, ” [i] n general, the greater the value of coal produced in an Appalachian county the lower the median household income was” that year.

By May 24, an additional 15 co-sponsors had signed on–Republican Frank Wolf (VA) and Democrats Doris O. Matsui and Hilda L. Solis (CA); Hank Johnson (GA); Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC); Danny K. Davis (IL), Julia Carson (IN-7); Michael E. Capuano , Edward J. Markey and Richard E. Neal (MA); Rush D. Holt (NJ); Brian Higgins, Louise McIntosh Slaughter and Eliot L Engel (NY); and David Wu (OR).

Organizations sponsoring the lobby week, in addition to Appalachian Voices included: Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Coal River Mountain Watch, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, Keeper of the Mountains, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Save Our Cumberland Mountains, Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, United Mountain Defense, and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Readers can view the lobbying package and find out if their representatives have co-sponsored the bill by visiting the links found at http://www.appvoices.org/index.php?/mtr/cwpa/. If your representatives are co-sponsors, please write and thank them; if not, please ask that they so. Then contact your friends throughout the country and ask them to do the same.

Earthjustice also has an action page and invites readers to set up a personal page to recruit support to end MTR. To see a sample and find the link for such your own page, go to http://action.earthjustice.org/stopmtr/advocacy/beth_blog-985957.

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