I’ve got a column out in the Diamondback about the recent groundbreaking decision by the EPA to heavily regulate mountaintop removal mining, and what needs to happen next.
EPA: Reaching the mountaintop
During the past two years, I’ve written a couple of columns harshly criticizing the Bush and Obama administrations for their failure to use the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Water Act when it comes to mountaintop removal. I’m thrilled to write now that the Obama EPA, under the leadership of Lisa Jackson, has issued a new set of strict environmental guidelines for mountaintop removal that is expected to sharply curtail, if not end, mountaintop removal mining. It’s being applauded by environmentalists and decried by coal companies. The National Mining Association is saying it could mean the “end of an era.”
Mountaintop removal mining uses explosives to access coal at the base of a mountain, generating large volumes of toxic waste that bury adjacent streams. The resulting waste ruins water quality, causing permanent damage to ecosystems and leaving streams unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking. It is estimated that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining. This has ruined the quality of life for many residents of Appalachia and has led to health problems for people who drink the water and breathe in the toxins from the waste.
There are a lot of reasons for this victory. The largest by far is the mountaintop removal activists in these Appalachian communities who mobilized year after year, repeatedly risking arrest (and getting arrested) through civil disobedience when there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Chances are their steadfast determination in putting the spotlight on this issue forced the EPA’s hand.
But this university did its part. Students have organized many educational events on this issue. I’ve been to four mountaintop removal events on the campus since the spring of 2008, and there’s another planned on April 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the Nanticoke Room at the Stamp Student Union. It should take on a more positive tone for a change.
Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science was one of the leading authors of a recent groundbreaking study on the environmental damage from mountaintop removal and its human health effects. The study linked elevated rates of mortality, lung cancer and chronic heart, lung and kidney diseases to communities near mountaintop removal mines. Palmer helped garner attention for the science through countless media interviews, including a spot on The Colbert Report.
The fight isn’t over yet. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have penned legislation called the Appalachian Restoration Act, which would redefine mining waste as a pollutant. This would prevent companies from dumping mining waste into valleys and streams below their projects, forcing them to truck the debris off-site. This would make operations too expensive and effectively end mountaintop removal. There’s similar legislation in the U.S. House called the Clean Water Protection Act.
Hats off to the EPA and President Obama for delivering on change for these communities in Appalachia. Now it’s up to Congress to make this the beginning of the end for one of the greatest human rights abuses going on in the country today. Finish the job. Sell coal back its soul.
Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.