West Virginia Public hearings on mountaintop removal mining set for this week across Appalachia's coalfields

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The public has a chance to weigh in this week on the controversial practice of mountaintop removal, a particularly destructive form of mining that entails blowing off mountain peaks to get to the coal seams below.

Six hearings are being held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency in charge of the permitting process for such mining operations. The events are set for Tuesday in Charleston, W.Va., Pikeville, Ky. and Knoxville, Tenn., and for Thursday in Pittsburgh, Cambridge, Ohio and Big Stone Gap, Va. The Corps is also accepting written comments through Oct. 26.*

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency asked the Corps to take a closer look at the impact such mines have on water quality, since the debris created by blasting is typically dumped into valley streams below. Mountaintop removal mining has already destroyed more than 470 Appalachian peaks and polluted or buried more than 1,200 miles of streams.

Water-quality experts with the EPA and Corps recently announced they would conduct an in-depth review of 79 pending permits for mountaintop removal operations, which the EPA says raise "potentially significant water quality and environmental issues."

That decision sparked some strong words from industry defenders including Roger Horton of the pro-mining lobby group Citizens for Coal, who called it "state-sponsored terrorism."

The National Mining Association, Kentucky Coal Association and West Virginia Coal Association have also denounced the permit review, with Ohio Coal Association President Mike Carey saying that "EPA is playing with fire."

In another setback for the mountaintop removal mining industry, U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd  (D-W.Va.) -- generally a staunch defender of mining interests -- recently blasted Virginia-based coal giant Massey Energy for its refusal to help fund a new school building for students at Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County, W.Va.

 

The existing school is located in a river valley just 400 yards below a leaky 2.8 billion-gallon coal sludge impoundment used by a processing plant owned by Massey and near one of the company's mountaintop removal mining operations, where ongoing blasting threatens the sludge impoundment's integrity. Sen. Byrd said of the company's decision:

Let me be clear about one thing -- this is not about the coal industry or their hard-working coal miners. This is about companies that blatantly disregard human life and safety because of greed. That is never acceptable.

At a time when coal is under such close scrutiny, coal companies operating in West Virginia should be working together to put their best foot forward. For the sake of the entire coal industry, Massey Energy should strive to be a better and more responsible corporate citizen.  And for the sake of the kids, they should address these serious environmental concerns at Marsh Fork Elementary immediately.

This past summer, Byrd's staff conducted a fact-finding mission to West Virginia mining communities and visited mountaintop removal sites to talk to nearby residents.

Another statement suggesting that the tide may be turning against mountaintop removal mining came earlier this year from Duke Energy CEO and Chairman Jim Rogers. The North Carolina-based company is a major purchaser of mountaintop removal coal, with about half of the coal burned by its power plants now mined via the practice.

At a shareholders meeting in May, Appalachian Voices attorney Scott Gollwitzer spoke about the environmental impact of mountaintop removal and asked Rogers whether he thought it was moral to buy it.

Rogers said Duke Energy would be "looking to move away from mountaintop removal coal" as it negotiates new contracts. He also said Gollwitzer's organization is "on the right side of this issue" and said that mountaintop removal coal is "not sustainable."

The spotlight will remain on mountaintop removal through October. Today marks the end of the Senior Citizen's March to End Mountaintop Removal, which will wrap up this afternoon with a protest and press conference at Massey subsidiary Mammoth Coal Co. near Cedar Grove. W.Va.

On Saturday, two teenagers acting in solidarity with the marchers were arrested for trespassing after they hung a banner off the Walker CAT building in Belle, W.Va. that read, "Yes, Coal Is Killing West Virginia's Communities." Affiliated with the nonviolent protest group Climate Ground Zero, Gabe Schwartzman, 19, and David German, 18, targeted the company because it's one of the main suppliers of equipment for the state's mountaintop removal operations.

And on Oct. 30, the Rainforest Action Network, Mountain Justice and Energy Justice Network are holding an End Mountaintop Removal Day of Action. Several actions are already planned across the country, including one at the EPA's offices in Atlanta.

* To submit written comments on mountaintop removal to the Corps, mail them by Monday, Oct. 26 to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Attn: CECW-CO (Ms. Desiree Hann), 441 G Street NW, Washington, DC 20314-1000. They can also be submitted at the federal eRulemaking portal under docket number COE-2009-0032.

(Photo above is a still from a video of Day 3 of the Senior's MTR march available at Climate Ground Zero's website.)

Link to original article from Facing South


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