Submitted by Vivian Stockman|
NITRO, W.Va.—Residents from the coalfields of southern West Virginia and
eastern Kentucky and other conservation-minded citizens intend to speak out
against valley fills and other aspects of mountaintop removal strip mining
in Washington, DC this Wednesday.
In mountaintop removal coal companies blast off the tops of mountains to
mine thin seams of coal. Rubble from the former mountaintops is pushed into
“valley fills,” burying streams in nearby valleys under hundreds of millions
of tons of mining waste, In West Virginia alone, over 1,000 miles of streams
have been obliterated by valley fills.
“We want lawmakers to hear first-hand accounts of life in the coalfields,
and we want to invite them to come witness for themselves the devastation
associated with mountaintop removal,” said Dave Cooper, an organizer with
the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), a West Virginia
environmental group organizing the bus trip.
Nearly 50 people are boarding a DC-bound bus in Nitro early Tuesday
afternoon. Others are car-pooling to meet the group in the nation’s capitol
Wednesday, when the residents and activists have a full day of meetings
scheduled with lawmakers from several states.
Late in April, a coalition of state, regional and national organizations
working to stop mountaintop removal had decided to bring coalfield residents
to the nation’s capital. The trip took on new urgency earlier this month
after a flurry of events put West Virginia and Kentucky in the national
“We’ve really been through the wringer, worse than usual, these last few
weeks. First, the floods slam us again. People die again. They can’t tell me
mountaintop removal doesn’t make floods worse,” said Kenny Stewart, a
resident of Pettus, in Raleigh County, W.Va., who is making the trip to DC.
“Then, the very next day, President Bush makes valley fills legal. I don’t
know what we’d do if it weren’t for Judge Haden. Someone has got to make
these coal companies accountable for their actions,” Stewart said.
On May 2, devastating floods swept the region, killing nine people in
southern West Virginia, and leaving hundreds homeless and destroying roads,
schools and businesses. The same area had been hit hard by flooding in
summer of 2001. Many residents believe that mountaintop removal coal mining
and virtually unregulated timbering have worsened regional flooding. They
say denuded forests and altered water-flow patterns disrupt the landscape’s
natural water-absorbing capabilities.
On May 3, the Bush Administration announced plans to change a rule to
legalize otherwise illegal valley fills at mountaintop removal operations.
Newspaper editorials and environmentalists nationwide railed against the
rule change, saying it would jeopardize waterways across the country and
would result in the most drastic weakening of the federal Clean Water Act
since that law was passed 30 years ago.
Five days later, on May 8, U.S. District Court Judge Charles H. Haden II
ruled that valley fills are indeed illegal and also said the rule change
“must fail,” since only Congress can change federal laws. Coal companies and
government regulators are expected to appeal Haden’s decision.
“We’re coming to DC to ask for help in stopping the annihilation of our
streams and hills,” said Patty Wallace of Louisa, Ky., a member of the
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC). Her group filed the lawsuit that
brought about Judge Haden’s decision. KFTC sued over a coal company’s permit
application to create 27 valley fills and bury 6.3 miles of streams for one
of its mountaintop removal operations.
During their visit, the groups will show legislators and the press a newly
created map of McDowell Co.
W.Va., an area devastated by the latest flooding. The map shows strip mines,
including mountaintop removal sites, valley fills and coal waste dams in the
county. During the flooding, a coal waste dam spilled tens of millions of
gallons of coal slurry -- which contains water, coal waste, heavy metals and
chemicals used in processing coal for market -- into the Tug Fork River,
according to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“This map represents cutting-edge work for a state environmental group,”
Cooper said. “West Virginians Rick Eades and Josh Weese compiled the map
for OVEC using DEP’s own data and Arc View software technology. The maps
reveal that strip mine boundaries cover over 18,000 acres of McDowell
County. That’s 4.6 percent of the total permitted strip mine boundaries for
the entire state. Seeing the map, it’s hard not to conclude that scalping
that many mountains and filling that many valleys won’t worsen flooding.”
“This mountaintop removal has caused a lot of flooding when we have rains,”
said Jim Bilek of Mont Coal in Raleigh Co. W.Va. “It’s polluting our
streams. We’re going to DC to ask the politicians to stop it.”
Judy Bonds, an organizer with the Coal River Mountain Watch, based in
Whitesville, W.Va., hopes she can somehow get a copy of the map to President
“Bush needs to see what is really happening here in West Virginia,” Bonds
said. “He came here in January to meet with people who make mountaintop
removal machinery. I challenge him to come meet the people in our towns,
not the damn companies. I challenge him to come see the destruction caused
by those giant machines, and to look at a valley fill up close, then look at
the destruction downstream. I challenge him to look into the eyes of someone
who lost a loved one in the latest floods.”
Groups participating in the DC trip include Clean Water Network, Coal River
Mountain Watch, Citizens Coal Council, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth,
Kentuckians For the Commonwealth, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and
the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
Tuesday, the groups intend to announce a press conference to be held in DC
as part of their Wednesday visit.
For more information: www.ohvec.org and www.wvrivers.org.
For pictures of the floods: www.mcdowellwv.com/photos/2002flood.html