The Dernogalizer

October 24, 2010

Hundreds Rally on Kayford Mountain; Dozens to March Onto “reclaimed” Site to Plant Trees

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 4:29 pm
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A very creative MTR rally by activists.  Read more by Morgan Goodwin about the action.

Hundreds Rally on Kayford Mountain; Dozens to March Onto “reclaimed” Site to Plant Trees

Nick Martin 304.854.7306
Debbie Jarrell 304.854.7306

Editors Note: Information, Directions, Photographs, & Video will be updated throughout the day.

Kayford, W.Va. – Hundreds of West Virginians and their allies will rally on Kayford Mountain and march from the Stanley Heirs Park onto the neighboring mountaintop removal site to plant trees on the surface mine. The rally begins at noon.

Lifelong Coal River Valley resident Junior Walk said, “Coal companies sure as hell aren’t going to take it upon themselves to do something about it – some one’s got to do it.”

Dozens of individuals intend to walk onto the mine site to plant trees on a “reclaimed” area of the site in an act of non-violent civil disobedience. They call for the abolition of mountaintop removal and thorough reclamation of the over 1 million acres flattened by surface mining in Appalachia. Standard reclamation involves regrading high walls into steep slopes and seeding the rocky soil with grass. The biodiverse mixed mesophytic forests of central Appalachia cannot regrow on reclaimed surface mines.

John Johnson, forester and environmentalist said, “The coal industry does not attempt to return the landscape to its previous biodiversity – leaving it up to the citizens to reclaim it themselves. Fixing the ruined landscape will provide long term jobs for those put out of work by the abolition of mountaintop removal.”

The rally and action comes on the heels of the EPA’s recommendation to veto the Spruce No. 1 mine’s permit and Appalachia Rising, the largest national gathering of people in opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining to date. Appalachia Rising culminated with a march to the White House of over 2,000 people and 118 arrests for non-violent civil disobedience at the White House, PNC Bank, Department of Interior, and Army Corps of Engineers.

“It’s up to us to fix our community,” said Chuck Nelson, a retired deep miner from the Coal River Valley, “the coal industry’s not gonna fix it.”

September 28, 2010

A Day of Fighting for Appalachia

I’ve written a number of columns in the University of Maryland student newspaper about the horrendous practice of mountaintop removal, in particular the Obama Administration’s failure to acknowledge the science behind mountaintop removal, a call for a ban on MTR following EPA regulations earlier this year which in hindsight were over-hyped, and an introduction to the practice and impacts of blowing up mountains for coal.  Although I’ve participated in protesting a bank over funding MTR and taken part in a few campus educational events about it, I’ve never gotten a chance to directly witness the passion, fight, and energy of the movement stemming from Appalachia to stop mountaintop removal.  That changed Monday, where I was fortunate enough to take part in one of the best organized rallies and fiercest urgent calls to action that I’ve seen in my years of environmental and climate activism.

How many people were there?  I don’t know, some people say thousands, others might guess lower, all I know is that there were a lot!  I arrived at the beginning of the rally at Freedom Plaza, where I joined up with a few friends and listened as artists played music along with passionate demands for justice and action from the Obama Administration, along with condemnation of the coal companies for their monumental destruction.  The speakers able to draw the best connection with the crowd and really define what’s at stake in this battle were coalfield residents who might not have been professional speakers, but spoke from the heart in a way that conveyed how dire the situation was to those like myself who are fortunate enough to have clean water and (relatively) clean air, something far too many of us take for granted.

After the speakers were done we were led away from Freedom Plaza and marched towards the White House, with a couple of pit stops on the way.  The first stop was at the EPA building, which in my opinion was the highest of many highs in this rally, as the energy that had been building up in the marchers for hours was unleashed.  As leaders of the march and the movement stormed the steps of the EPA flanked by cameras, reporters, and security, a frustration and anger swept over the crowd (see photo), including myself.  What the hell is the EPA doing?  Certainly not its job, which is why the crowd chanted extraordinarily loudly “EPA do your job!”, so thunderously that if Lisa Jackson was in the building, her desk may have shook.  More local coalfield residents spoke about how the EPA needs to regulate MTR because it’s poisoning their communities, and that Lisa Jackson needs to take a trip to Appalachia to understand the calamity being caused the corrupt politicians and their corporate coal masters.

After the EPA building, we marched onward to the steps of PNC bank, where speakers highlighted how PNC bank is a top funder of MTR.  It was great to see cameras flashing, security guards surrounding the entrance of the bank, and bewildered bank workers looking out onto the massive protest.  There’s a saying that all press is good press.  That quote was proven WRONG today.  What PNC got on September 27th was definitely very very BAD press, which is what it deserves.  Since PNC portrays itself as a green bank because of it’s building practices, it’s hopefully sensitive to this kind of negative attention, and will reconsider its policy of financing MTR.

Next we marched to an area across from the White House for more speakers along with instructions for the civil disobedience that was to follow.  One might expect a crowd to dissipate throughout the day, particularly with the rain that had been pouring on and off throughout the rally.  Not this rally!  If anything, the crowd grew as time wore on, to the point where I looked around when we got to the White House and realized that this wasn’t just a good turnout, this was a great turnout.  Now came the moment of truth, where well over a hundred of the protesters in the rally marched over to the White House fence, risking arrest.  The crowd watching stayed strong in numbers, chanting repeatedly alongside the soon to be arrested protesters.  It took a real long time for the police to start arresting people, and even then they appeared to move very slowly, which I’m sure is owed to so many people risking arrest.  Where were the police going to put all of them?!  I stayed until the very end, taking part in many more chants, and cheering on as one by one the protesters were placed in handcuffs and walked (and in a few cases dragged) away.  Many danced, egged on the crowd, and carried out the action right until the very end.  The was one incident where it appeared the police were being too rough with a protester, which is unfortunate but it demonstrated how big this rally was, as hundreds of rally participants scrambled over to the side of the police tape where the incident was taking place.  The police were forced to bring out officers on horses to push the crowd back and expand the perimeter.

Despite being hungry(but hungrier for change!) and needing to finish work on an essay, I’m glad I stayed for the whole event when I had only intended to march to the White House.  Everyone who came deserves a high five, but everyone who stayed all the way to the end to forcefully support those risking arrest deserve two, it really made a difference.  Needless to say, the protesters who got arrested deserve much more!

The energy in large numbers displayed throughout this rally was truly impressive.  The decision to hit the EPA for their inaction, PNC Bank for placing profit above people, and then President Obama for allowing this atrocity to take place under his watch was smart and strategic.  Apparently some activists also visited the Interior Department.

I have no doubt that those in power and big coal took notice of this day.  I’m very proud to have been a part of it, and sense I will eventually  look back on this day as a big stepping stone on the inevitable path to victory.  But I know that before any of us can look back, we have to move forward.  This was a great day of fighting for Appalachia.  Despite living in Maryland, I know I can do better than one day of action, and I encourage everyone to step up their efforts to win this.

Read more from: Get Energy Smart Now, AP, CNN International, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes, Jeff Biggers, Wonk Room, Itsgettinghotinhere, Washington Examiner, RAN. MSNBC, Climate Progress

September 21, 2010

Day of Action to End Mountaintop Removal

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 11:16 pm
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I’ve been getting a lot of e-mail, and even some calls from friends about a mass mobilization this upcoming weekend to stop the horrendous practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.  Below is a video from Appalachia Rising, as well as a description from their homepage detailing the activities that will be taking place this weekend.  Although I probably will be unable to attend the weekend activities, my intention is to join in next Monday for the big day of action.

Join us on September 25-27 in Washington, DC forAppalachia Rising!, a national response to the unmitigated destruction of Appalachia’s mountains, air and water through mountaintop removal coal mining. Appalachia Rising! will follow a long history of action for a just and prosperous Appalachia. Converging in our nation’s capital, Appalachians, grassroots groups, individuals, and national organizations will call for the abolition of mountaintop removal coal mining and demand that America’s water be protected from all forms of surface mining.

Appalachia Rising! will consist of two events. First, the weekend conference, September 25-26, Appalachia Rising! Voices from the Mountains will provide an opportunity to build and join the movement for justice in Appalachia through strategy discussions and share knowledge across regional and generational lines.

On Monday, September 27, the Appalachia Rising! Day of Action which will unify thousands in calling for an end to mountaintop removal though a vibrant march and rally. An act of dignified non-violent civil disobedience will be possible for those who wish to put their sentiments into action by risking arrest.

Join us, and stand in solidarity with the people of our Appalachian Mountain Communities, who won’t stand idly by as their land, water, and health are blasted and poisoned away.

July 29, 2010

Massey Energy Files ’SLAPP’ Lawsuit against Environmental Activists

Filed under: environment — Matt Dernoga @ 11:58 am
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Donate to the activists legal defense.

See photos

Massey Energy Files ’SLAPP’ Lawsuit against Environmental Activists

Company Responsible for Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster Actively Seeking to Silence Local Critics

July 22, 2010


Larry Hildes, (360) 715-9788

Rock Creek, W. Va. — Massey Energy has filed a politically motivated civil suit, also known as a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit, against fourteen activists arrested last year in relation to a protest on a mountaintop removal mining site. The suit seems to be part of a larger strategy on the part of the mining company to intimidate and silence critics of the company’s safety record and controversial mining practices, particularly mountaintop removal coal mining. (more…)

June 29, 2010

Much-Lauded Strict Mountaintop Mining Guidelines Not So Strict

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 10:41 pm
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I’m concerned that the EPA’s mountaintop removal guidelines they announced in April aren’t translating into the kind of result activists were expecting.  The rules were supposed to mark “the end of an era” and make it difficult if not impossible for coal companies to get permits for mountaintop removal.  By today, the Rainforest Action Network(RAN) called to attention the EPA’s first decision under the new guidelines, which was to grant three new valley fills.  See below, and stay tuned.

SAN FRANCISCO– Just last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave the Army Corps of Engineers a green light for the Pine Creek mine permit, a mountaintop removal (MTR) mining site in Logan County, W.Va. This is the first permit decision the EPA has issued under the new mountaintop mining guidelines, which came out last April and were anticipated to provide tougher oversight of mountaintop removal coal mining.

The new MTR guidelines were understood to provide greater protection for headwater streams by curbing the practice of dumping waste in neighboring valleys to create what is known as valley fills. The Pine Creek permit is the first test of these guidelines, and green lights three new valley fills (each over 40 acres large). It was anticipated that these guidelines, by requiring mining operators to control levels of toxins in nearby streams, would significantly reduce the dumping of mining waste in valleys, which the EPA said was scientifically proven to contaminate drinking water and wreck ecosystems.

“This is a devastating first decision under guidelines that had offered so much hope for Appalachian residents who thought the EPA was standing up for their health and water quality in the face of a horrific mining practice,” said Amanda Starbuck of the Rainforest Action Network. “The grand words being spoken by Administrator Jackson in Washington are simply not being reflected in the EPA’s actions on-the-ground. This continues the inconsistent and contradictory decisions that have plagued the EPA’s process on mountaintop removal coal mining all along.”

In announcing the new guidelines in April, Administrator Jackson told reporters: “We expect this guidance to change behaviors, to change actions, because if we keep doing what we have been doing, we’re going to see continued degradation of water quality… Minimizing the number of valley fills is a very, very key factor. You’re talking about no or very few valley fills that are going to be able to meet standards like this.”

The Pine Creek Surface Mine permit will allow Coal-Mac, a subsidiary of coal giant Arch Coal, to mine through more than 2 miles of streams that are already suffering dangerous levels of pollution from surface mining (see editors note for more details). Extensive mountaintop removal mining and the subsequent environmental and water quality damage have already ravaged Logan County W.Va., which is the location of the infamous Spruce mine.

In response to the possibility of more blasting in Logan County, West Virginia resident Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environment Coalition said: “In approving the Pine Creek permit, the EPA has failed our community. Any more mountaintop removal mining in Logan County is going to further degrade the watershed, increase pollution-related health impacts and increase the likelihood of more flooding.”

“Moving forward, it is clear that the EPA cannot end mountaintop removal coal mining pollution without abolishing mountaintop removal all together,” continued Starbuck.

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 elevated levels of highly toxic 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.

A paper released in January 2009 by a dozen leading scientists in the journal Science, concluded that mountaintop coal mining is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits all together. “The science is so overwhelming that the only conclusion that one can reach is that mountaintop mining needs to be stopped,” said Margaret Palmer, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and the study’s lead author.

The Pine Creek permit is currently awaiting approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.


Notes to Editor
For more information on the EPA’s decision about the Pine Creek mine permit:……

For more information on the Pine Creek permit:

For background on EPA guidelines and conductivity levels:
The new EPA guidelines were designed to gauge the health of nearby streams based on their levels of conductivity, which is an indicator of water’s purity. The runoff from Appalachian mines contains toxins like magnesium, sulfate, bicarbonate, and potassium — all ions that raise conductivity levels. The higher the conductivity, the tougher it is for aquatic life to survive.

EPA is warning that water pollution from these mining operations dangerously increases the electrical conductivity of streams. Under the guidelines, the EPA believes any mining proposals with predicted conductivity levels of 300 or below is generally okay. Anything above 500 is considered by EPA “to be associated with impacts that may rise to the level of exceedances of narrative state water quality standards.”

There is a plan for monitoring water quality that involves 2 thresholds. Should bi-monthly testing show conductivity levels of about 300 then the “adaptive management plan” kicks in. The second threshold is when levels exceed 500 at which point “chemical improvements to the watershed” will be made. Should water quality be in exceedence of 500 a subsequent valley fill would not be allowed to be constructed. The EPA acknowledges that conductivity levels at the left fork of Pine Creek are already approaching 500 S/cm.

April 10, 2010

Weekly Mulch: Massey Energy coal costs the environment

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 7:27 pm
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Here is a cross-post of the Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium

Weekly Mulch: Massey Energy coal costs the environment

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Coal consumption has costs — this week’s explosion at a West Virginia mine, which killed 25, made that clear. Those costs aren’t limited to human lives, either. Massey Energy Co., the owner of the West Virginia mine, has racked up not just safety violations but also consistently has disregarded the environmental effects of its work.

Black marks on Massey’s record

This week’s explosion is far from the first debacle associated with a Massey project, and past incidents have had disastrous impacts on the environment. In 2000, a break in a Massey-owned reservoir, filled with coal waste, caused more damage than the Exxon Valdez spill, Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly. Clara Bingham described the flood of sludge for the magazine in 2005:

“The gooey mixture of black water and coal tailings traveled downstream through Coldwater and Wolf creeks, and later through the river’s main stem, Tug Fork. Ten days later, an inky plume appeared in the Ohio River. On its 75-mile path of destruction, the sludge obliterated wildlife, killed 1.6 million fish, ransacked property, washed away roads and bridges, and contaminated the water systems of 27,623 people.”

A year later, another 30,000 gallons of sludge poured into a river in Madison, WV, “with nary a peep from Massey,” Kevin Connor points out at AlterNet.

The company routinely scorns environmental regulations, too, as Andy Kroll reports for Mother Jones:

“Between 2000 and 2006, Massey violated the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times by dumping sediment and leftover mining waste into rivers in Kentucky and West Virginia, the EPA said in 2008. (Environmental groups say the EPA’s tally is a lowball figure; they estimate that the true number of violations is more than 12,000.) As a result of these breaches of the law, the company agreed to pay the EPA a $20 million settlement.”

It appears that prior spills have not chastened Massey, either. Brooke Jarvis at Yes! Magazine notes that the company stores 8.2 billion gallons of coal sludge in the same West Virginia county suffering from this week’s explosion, and that two months ago, “West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation because the dam failed to meet safety requirements.”

Don Blankenship, denier!

Massey’s owner, Don Blankenship, has as dark a record as his company on environmental issues. Blankenship believes in the “survival of the most productive,” Mike Lillis writes at The Washington Independent, which means that safety and environmental concerns come second. He “loves to slam ‘greeniacs’ for believing in things like climate change,” says Nick Baumann at Mother Jones. The Colorado Independent’s David O. Williams calls Blankenship “a notorious right-wing climate change denier and outspoken critic of the policies of ‘Obama bin Laden,’” and notes that Blankenship is on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has tried its hardest to squelch any climate legislation eking through Congress.

Methane and mountaintop removal

Although Massey and Blankenship stand out for their scorn of the environment, all coal production extracts a cost. Accidents and violations like Massey’s can devastate forests and streams, but coal’s biggest environmental impact comes when it is burned and pours tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As Yes! Magazine’s Jarvis puts it, “Coal may be cheap now, but that’s simply because we’re not counting—and don’t even know how to count—the long-term costs.”

The Obama administration has taken some steps towards limiting coal production. Last week the EPA announced restrictions that would limit mountaintop removal mining. But those regulations won’t ban the practice altogether. The Senate could, in theory, take up that task: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced a bill a year ago that would make mountaintop removal mining so expensive it would be economically infeasible, effectively banning the practice, Mike Lillis reports for The Washington Independent. Although the bill accrued a few more sponsors during 2009, mostly liberal Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), it hasn’t attracted much attention and is still sitting in the Environment and Public Works Committee.

In the Mountain West, the Bureau of Land Management is opening up federal lands for coal mining and claiming it can’t require companies to flare off or capture methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, David O. Williams reports for The Colorado Independent. Without methane capture, the new mines would pour carbon pollution into the atmosphere. This BLM stance, Williams writes, has green advocates in Colorado “longingly reminiscing about the bygone days of the Bush administration,” which said it would require companies to manage methane.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

April 7, 2010

Off-shore drilling, auto emissions, mountaintop mining from Obama administration

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 9:15 pm
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The following is a cross post from the Media Consortium’s Weekly Mulch

Weekly Mulch: Off-shore drilling, auto emissions, mountaintop mining from Obama administration

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

President Barack Obama announced this week that his administration would open areas from Delaware to Florida and in Alaska to offshore drilling for gas and oil. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation also released new guidelines for auto emissions to cut carbon emissions, and the EPA said new benchmarks for issuing mountaintop mining permits would prevent damage to waterways in Appalachia. The environmental community welcomed these last two announcements but both were overshadowed by the off-shore drilling decision, which green groups largely condemned.

Off-putting off-shore drilling decision

Although as a candidate President Obama began by opposing off-shore drilling, by the end of the campaign he said he would support an expansion of drilling areas. Mother JonesKate Sheppard explains the series of decisions that made this week’s announcement possible:

“In October 2008, amidst calls of “drill, baby, drill” from conservatives, Congress failed to renew the long-standing moratorium on offshore drilling. Months earlier, George W. Bush had lifted an 18-year-old executive ban on offshore drilling, which had originally been imposed by his father in 1990. Obama, of course, could have issued his own order, but didn’t.”

The administration had been considering the decision to go ahead with drilling for about a year but kept deliberations quiet. Key senators, however, knew the decision was coming, and it’s pushing Democrats like Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) to warm towards energy legislation, TPMDC reports.

Cars’ carbon emission

The EPA’s announcement on auto emissions, on the other hand, comes as no surprise. It marks the first big step the Obama administration has taken to limit carbon emissions through regulation. Auto regulations are a relatively easy sell. A chunk of Congress wants to keep the EPA from taking these sorts of actions, but in this case, the auto industry supports the federal regulations. At the Washington Independent, Aaron Wiener notes that “the guidelines drew immediate praise from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which has long advocated national emissions and efficiency regulations rather than patchwork state-by-state rules.”

Mountaintop removal mining

The coal industry will be less happy about the EPA’s announcement on mountaintop removal mining. The agency admitted that the practice causes significant damage to streams and said its new guidelines would lead to significantly less harm.

The new policies, Jeff Biggers writes at AlterNet, will “effectively bring an end to the process of valley fills (and the dumping of toxic coal mining waste into the valleys and waterways).” It could be, he says, “the beginning of the end of mountaintop removal.”

One sign that mountaintop removal’s doomsday is nigh? Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), one of coal’s staunchest and most powerful advocates on the Hill, praised the EPA’s decision, reports Mike Lillis at the Washington Independent.

Green groups groan

Green groups are lauding the EPA’s two announcements. (The Sierra Club called the mining announcement “the most significant administrative action ever taken to address mountaintop removal coal mining,” for instance.) But the push for off-shore drilling has environmental advocates squirming.

“As the president extends olive branches to his critics, he’s alienating allies in the environmental community, who say his policies are reminding them more and more of those of his predecessor, George W. Bush,” says Mother Jones’ Sheppard. “Some enviros are even likening Obama to Alaska’s oil-loving ex-governor, Sarah Palin.”

On Democracy Now!, Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity, called the decision “horribly disappointing” and said, “Obama is essentially embracing wholeheartedly the policy of: we can drill our way to energy independence.”

The Obama administration’s energy and environmental policy is creeping ever further towards the center. Ken Salazar, Secretary for the Interior, said this week that “Cap-and-trade is not in the lexicon anymore,” TPMDC reports. It’s no wonder that progressive members of Congress are starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction their climate bill is taking, as Sheppard reports. The president may be using up his reserves of political support from his allies as he stretches to meet conservatives and centrist Democrats on some shaky middle ground.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

April 6, 2010

EPA: Reaching the mountaintop

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 11:28 am
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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.

April 1, 2010

EPA lays the BOOM on Mountaintop Removal Mining

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 5:11 pm
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I’ve criticized the EPA a lot for it’s unwillingness to do anything serious about mountaintop removal.  See here.

But today, the EPA unveiled new pollution limits to curtail MTR.  You can read their full guidance notice here.  See the following excerpts from the Washington Post article, and below that a press release by the Sierra Club.  You can also read a great piece in the Huffington Post by MTR activist Jeff Biggers, who calls this “The beginning of the end of mountaintop removal. Let’s hope.”

The decision, announced Thursday afternoon by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, is expected to end or significantly cut the use of “valley fills.” At these sites, mining companies fill valleys to the brim with rock and rubble left over when peaks are sheared off to reach coal seams inside.

“Minimizing the number of valley fills is a very, very key factor,” Jackson said. “You’re talking about no, or very few, valley fills that are going to meet this standard.”

Both supporters and opponents of the practice said that, because large valley fills are such a common part of mountaintop mines, the move could curtail the mines in general. Mountaintop mining provides only about 10 percent of U.S. coal, but it is a much larger part of the economy in some sections of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

“It could mean the end of an era,” said Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association. He said that to limit valley fills “is tantamount to saying the intent is to strictly limit coal mining in Appalachia,” with serious economic consequences for regions dependent on the mines.

Sierra Club Applauds Environmental Protection Agency for
Cracking Down on Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Tough New Policy Should Protect Communities and Waterways

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a bold new policy to protect communities and waterways from the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. By setting tough guidance for mining near streams, the EPA will severely limit this most devastating form of coal mining. The EPA also addressed the negative impacts to communities caused by mountaintop removal coal mining.

In response Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune issued the following statement:

“The new policy represents the most significant administrative action ever taken to address mountaintop removal coal mining. Today’s announcement reaffirms the Obama administration’s commitment to science and to environmental justice for the communities and natural areas of Appalachia.

“We also applaud the EPA for recognizing the negative impacts to the communities of Appalachia, who have suffered long enough from the effects of mountaintop removal.

“After years of the coal industry making molehills out of Appalachia’s mountains, these new guidelines will reduce the destruction caused by mountaintop removal, and communities will be able to focus on building a clean energy economy. Tragically, mining companies have already buried close to 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams beneath piles of toxic waste and debris.

“Today’s announcement is a major step toward protecting Appalachia’s natural heritage. If effectively implemented and vigorously enforced, this policy will largely prevent coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams. We call on other agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the Office of Surface Mining and the Department of the Interior to follow EPA’s lead and take their own steps to protect the region’s communities and water resources.”

March 27, 2010

EPA Blocks Mountaintop Removal Mine!

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 11:26 am
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I’ve been very critical of the EPA’s inability to follow the science on mountaintop removal, and halt the destructive practice.  However, it’s worth highlighting this recent positive piece of news.  According to Solve Climate, the EPA has “raised the bar for mountaintop mining today with a proposal to stop or at least significantly restrict one of Appalachia’s largest and most disputed mining operations, the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, W.Va.”

Below is an excerpted chunk of their article, and I’d suggest checking it out for some great context of the entire situation.

“The sprawling Spruce No. 1 mine site, already in operation, has been a point of contention and lawsuits from environmental groups for over a decade. EPA has gone back and forth with the Army Corps of Engineers over whether the owner, an Arch Coal subsidiary, would cause too much damage to the state’s waterways with its mining plan. In 2007, however, the Corps and the state of West Virginia moved ahead, authorizing mining to begin.

While the Corps has the authority to approve mining permits, EPA has veto power when it reviews environmental impact statements, and that’s what it is proposing to use now. It has used that authority only 12 times and never before for an already permitted mine like Spruce No. 1.

EPA Regional Administrator for the Mid-Atlantic, Shawn Garvin, said his agency tried to work with the mining company to decrease the environmental and health risks from the project but the talks failed.

“Coal, and coal mining, is part of our nation’s energy future, and for that reason EPA has made repeated efforts to foster dialogue and find a responsible path forward. But we must prevent the significant and irreversible damage that comes from mining pollution — and the damage from this project would be irreversible,” Garvin said. “EPA has a duty under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on these waters for drinking, fishing and swimming.”

In the proposed determination released today, Garvin wrote: “EPA believes that the predicted impacts from the Spruce No. 1 mine, if constructed as currently authorized, could have unacceptable effects on wildlife and fisheries.” He talked about the degradation of water from mining debris that is dumped into streams with unearthed metals and elements, such as selenium, which can cause birth defects in fish. The dumping of mining debris in streams also destroys habitat relied upon by the region’s salamanders, fish and smaller creatures, such as insects that are key elements in the food chain for birds, bats and other animals, he wrote. And pollutions would become a problem downstream from the valley fills and could contribute to conditions that support golden algae blooms, which release more toxins dangerous to aquatic life. There is a cumulative impact that needs to be considered, he said.

It is important to remember that the streams that would be filled with debris from Spruce No. 1 mining, particularly Oldhouse Branch and Pigeonroost Branch, currently “are generally healthy, functioning streams with good water quality,” Garvin wrote.

This is a region of West Virginia where state officials, in a 1997 assessment, identified as a priority the need to “locate and protect the few remaining high-quality streams.” The Coal River sub-basin has had more than 257 past and present mining permits, collectively occupying some 13 percent of the land, according to the EPA. At the same time, the area has about 51 species listed as endangered, threatened or state rear species, and many of them rely on aquatic ecosystems for their lifecycle.

“The streams that will be buried cannot be viewed in a vacuum,” Garvin wrote. “When those streams and wildlife are buried, there will be effects to downstream waters and downstream wildlife caused by the removal of functions performed by the buried resources and by transformation of the buried areas into source that may contribute pollutants to downstream waters.”

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