West Virginia "Our Communities Are Now War Zones" Appalachian Resident Tells Committee Hearing

In gut-wrenching testimonies on the devastating economic costs and mounting humanitarian crisis related to reckless mountaintop removal operations, two courageous Appalachian coalfield leaders turned the tables on an EPA-bashing Republican-led Natural Resources House Committee hearing in Charleston, West Virginia today.

“The coal industry obviously wants to bury and pollute all of our water and all of who we are, for temporary jobs,” 2009 North American Goldman Prize Winner Maria Gunnoe testified. “Jobs in surface mining are dependent on blowing up the next mountain and burying the next stream. When are we going to say enough is enough?"

In holding the hearing in the Appalachian coalfields, Republican members–and their Big Coal bankrolled Democrat allies–had initially brought their thinly veiled political circus of coal industry wags under the banner of “Jobs at Risk: Community Impacts of the Obama Administration’s Effort to Rewrite the Stream Buffer Zone Rule.” In a parting gift to the coal industry, George W. Bush altered the ineffective but longstanding rule that was supposed to prevent companies from dumping toxic coal waste within 100 feet of a stream. Under the Obama administration, the Interior Department has spent more than two years to study a reversal of the manipulation by the Bush administration.

Unlike every single coal industry spokesperson that testified, Gunnoe and legendary coalfield activist Bo Webb live under the fallout of mountaintop removal operations, which have led to the largest forced removal of American citizens since the mid-19th century and left the region in entrenched poverty and unemployment. Webb, who has been actively petitioned by West Virginia residents to wage an independent 2012 Senate campaign against disgraced West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, quickly framed the hearings in a devastating reminder of the overlooked human and health care crises:

“The very title of this hearing indicates a bias from this committee against those that are living (and dying) in mountaintop removal mining communities. The title suggests that jobs are at risk if the SBZ rule is corrected. The SBZ rule must be corrected in order to protect The People’s health. It was rewritten by George W. Bush at the cost of people’s health and it needs fixed.”

“With their powerful and courageous testimonies, Maria Gunnoe and Bo Webb put the whole issue of water protections and surface mining in Appalachia into perspective today,” said Elizabeth Judge, with the Earthjustice organization in Washington, DC. “They spoke profound truth to political power today, revealing the tragic injustices faced by people who live near mountaintop removal coal mining. Their honest words today made it clear to these House politicians that there is simply no way to justify the harms that mountaintop removal mining inflicts on families, communities and people throughout Appalachia. Bo’s and Maria’s striking testimonies today made it indisputable: Any attempt to block clean water protections in Appalachia is unconscionable. Lives are depending on stronger stream protections. Our nation’s leaders must not let the tragedy of mountaintop removal mining go on.”

Forty years ago, the venerable West Virginia Congressman Ken Hechler foretold the economic ruin of strip-mining and mountaintop removal, which had already “left a trail of utter despair for many honest and hard-working people,” in a similar congressional hearing:

Link to original articl on AlterNet


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