ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS SAY MOUNTAINTOP STUDY TRASHED

(08/13/2003)

ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS SAY MOUNTAINTOP STUDY TRASHED Julian Martin, Outreach Chairman, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy www.wvhighlands.org

"Sadly, the Department of the Interior has chosen to ignore the scientific studies on mountaintop removal and has instead drawn conclusions dictated by the Bush political agenda. Considering what we now know about the administration's dismal record on the environment, this comes as no surprise. We would never have agreed to settle the case if we had known the extent to which the administration will go to have politics trump scientific reality," said Cindy Rank, mining chairwoman for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the group which filed the lawsuit that brought about the EIS.

The EIS confirms the empirical data that led to the common sense conclusions of coalfield residents and environmental groups-mountaintop removal / valley fill coal mining is irreversibly and substantially harming the forests and streams of Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky.

Throughout central Appalachia, some of the most productive and diverse temperate hardwood forests in the world have been destroyed when coal companies blast off hundreds of feet of mountaintops to get to thin seams of coal. In most circumstances, the former lush forests will remain degraded as grassy, unproductive scrub land for at least several centuries. These unproductive grasslands cover nearly 20% of some southern West Virginia counties.

Millions of tons of rubble from the former mountains are pushed into the adjacent valleys. Coal companies have already buried hundreds of miles of Appalachian streams, destroying not only the streams themselves, but creating disastrous impacts to downstream waterways and towns. As residents point out, mountaintop removal is also devastating the culture and communities of the region. In the EIS draft, the Bush administration does not recommend curbing the environmental harm caused by mountaintop removal, but asks the agencies that are supposed to be regulating coal mining to streamline the way they work together.

"You can practically smell the corruption wafting off this document. Bush and his coal industry friends weren't happy with the scientific truth, so they delayed the study for months, trying to figure out how to put a positive spin on the worst intentional environmental disaster in the nation. Perhaps they were attempting to tweak the studies just like their Enron pals cooked the books," said Vivian Stockman, with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, a Huntington, W.Va.-based group calling for an end to mountaintop removal.

One of the coordinators of the EIS, J. Steven Griles, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior, is a former coal industry lobbyist with ties to mountaintop removal companies. The DOI's Inspector General is currently investigating Griles for conflicts of interest. The PBS television program, Now with Bill Moyers, exposed Griles on Friday May 30.

"It's outrageous that a man so obviously still in bed with the coal industry could be allowed to leave his grubby fingerprints all over this document," said Judy Bonds, a community organizer for the Whitesville, W. Va.-based Coal River Mountain Watch. Bonds won the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize for North America for her efforts to ban mountaintop removal.

"I am shocked that it took the agencies this long to try to put their spin on the truth, and they still couldn't do it. They still couldn't say that mountaintop removal isn't permanently scarring the land," Bonds added. "The scientific studies and the economic data included in the EIS clearly show that there is no reason for the valley fills should be so large and so damaging to the environment,"" said Joe Lovett, Executive Director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment. "It is remarkable that, based on these data, the Bush administration is proposing to loosen the reins on permitting, not tighten them, as they should."

"The Bush administration is determined to remove any obstacles to maximizing profit for an outlaw coal industry," said Teri Blanton of the citizens group Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, a group which also filed a major mountaintop removal lawsuit. "It doesn't matter to him if mountains, water, communities or lives are destroyed in the process. This EIS is further proof of that."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, www.opensecrets.org, during the 2000 election cycle, Bush was the top recipient of all campaign contributions from the coal industry. Out of every dollar the coal industry contributed to political campaigns for 2000, 88 cents went to Republican candidates.

"The Bush administration hopes we will buy into the EIS. Well, we taxpayers were forced to pay millions for this study, but we don't buy its excuses and rationalizations for the destruction of our mountains and our heritage. After all, one of the studies showed that limiting valley fills down to 35 acres would only add 50 cents per ton to the price of coal. Yet, the Bush administration is dismissing the science and endangering our futures in order to reward its political cronies," said Janet Fout, a coordinator with the People's Election Reform Coalition of West Virginia.


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