Activists from the Appalachian region called on the Obama administration this week to end the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, saying it is destroying their land and harming their water quality.
Although the administration has set out to curb the practice, activists said at a news conference near the Capitol said that it hasn’t done enough. The group plans a Washington rally on Sept. 27 and is inviting President Barack Obama to attend.
In mountaintop removal mining, forests are clearcut, explosives blast apart the rock, and machines scoop out the exposed coal. The earth left behind is dumped into valleys, covering intermittent streams.
Matt Sherman, a Blackfoot Indian and spiritual leader from Lancaster, Ohio, said that while efforts are under way to restore the Gulf of Mexico following this year’s oil spill, “the mountains will not come back. The mountains are gone.”
“No more blowing our mountains to smithereens!” demanded Mickey McCoy, a former mayor of Inez, Ky. He called mountaintop removal mining “environmental terrorism.”
Coal operators say it’s the most efficient way to reach some reserves, and that it supports tens of thousands of jobs and provides coal for electric power plants across much of the South and East.
In a lawsuit filed against the administration last month, the coal industry challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s new surface mining policy which tightened water quality standards for valley fills at surface coal mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said the goal is a standard so strict that few, if any, permits would be issued for valley fills.
Bryan Brown, West Virginia state coordinator for the industry-backed group Faces of Coal, said coal advocates and miners from Appalachia will have their own Washington gathering Sept. 15 to highlight federal regulations that he said are having a negative impact on mining jobs.
Brown declined to respond to the complaints by activists about the environmental toll of mountaintop removal mining, saying, “That’s an argument that has no end.”
Melissa Waage, campaign director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview that the EPA has taken a “baby step in the right direction, but this is still happening. The administration really does have it within its power to end this practice.”
In a statement issued to The Associated Press, the EPA said that it has signifi cantly strengthened and improved protections for the public by reducing the environmental and water quality impacts of coal mining.
“And, at the request of members of Congress, mining companies, states and others, EPA issued further clear guidance to assure that mountaintop mining permits fully protect local waters and coalfield communities,” the agency said.