(04/27/2002)

Mountaintop removal project near Blair, WV

By Vivian Stockman

Groups Angrily Criticize Bush Proposal To Legalize Valley Fills

CHARLESTON, WV -- Coalfield residents and leaders of environmental groups across West Virginia and Kentucky reacted angrily to news that the Bush administration was closing in on its goal of finalizing a rule change that would facilitate the dumping of wastes into the nation's waterways.

The groups contend the rule change is being pushed by the coal industry in response to a lawsuit challenging the legality of valley fills at mountaintop removal operations. They say the rule change would legalize illegal valley fills and essentially gut the Clean Water Act, endangering streams, rivers and wetlands across the nation.

"This is a terribly dangerous message to send to citizens -- that when a citizens' group tries to get the laws of the land enforced, the coal companies get the President to change the laws. It's like a death penalty for the mountains and streams with no way to appeal to the courts," said Julian Martin, a member of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers have written the proposed rule change and say the change only fixes a discrepancy between the way the two agencies define "fill" and does not represent a major change in policy.

Appalachian residents forcefully disagreed.

"This is yet another tragic setback for the people of Appalachia. This rule change would make total ecosystem destruction legal," said Ben Stout, an aquatic biologist with the Wheeling-Jesuit University.

"These so called 'fills' are just huge dumps that create vast wastelands unsuitable for economic development by future generations. Valley dumps also render the water supply unusable," Stout said.

"This rule change, written by the coal industry and embraced by President Bush, would be laughable if it wasn't so close to becoming actual law," said Jeremy P. Muller, executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition. "In this rule the President says that dumping refrigerators, sinks and junk cars in West Virginia's rivers will create 'environmentally beneficial artificial reefs.' Come on, is he serious? Unfortunately, it appears he is."

"This is the most incredibly stupid thing that the Bush administration has attempted so far," said Judy Bonds, community outreach coordinator with the Coal River Mountain Watch, based in Whitesville, WV. "Essentially Bush is giving industries nationwide the right to use our public waters as a garbage dump. I guess this is a payback for his buddies in the coal industry."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org), coal mining interests gave over three million dollars to the political campaigns of Republican politicians during the 2000 election cycle.

"This is just another example of the Bush administration bending over backwards to rewrite laws for the benefit of their campaign contributors," said Dave Cooper, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. "Apparently the president won't be satisfied until all of Kentucky is as flat as West Texas."

"Once again, energy industry money is buying favors from political leaders, resulting in massive destruction of the Creator's work," said Bill McCabe, a West Virginia based field organizer with the Citizens Coal Council.

Freda Williams lives along the Big Coal River, downstream from a huge valley fill at a mountaintop removal operation. She worries that the proposed rule change would be a death sentence for streams that feed the Big Coal.

"They've already destroyed so many streams here. This rule change would put the destruction into hyper-drive," Williams said. "Is President Bush not aware of the drastic water shortage and the outcry in many states for people to conserve water?"

"Bush and Co. want to make this madness legal and justify it in the name of maintaining the status quo and producing more electricity cheaply," said Vivian Stockman, outreach coordinator with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, based in Huntington, WV. "Read my lips. There is no cheap electricity if it is produced by blowing up mountains and filling in valleys."

"Just take a look at the southern coalfields," Stockman said. "How can officials say it's cheap to displace entire communities, raze huge swaths of forests and disrupt the flow of our most precious resource, water? How can they justify maintaining the status quo? The status quo has made southern West Virginia into the nation's energy sacrifice zone."

In mountaintop removal, practiced most heavily in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, coal companies get at thin layers of low-sulfur coal by blasting the tops off of forested mountains. The area's temperate forests are some of the most biodiverse forests on earth, according to World Wildlife Fund. The blasts that reduce the mountaintops to rubble have ruined homes and water wells and driven people away from their mountain towns.

The "overburden" from the mountains is pushed into nearby valleys, creating valley fills. Environmentalists estimate that over 1000 miles of biologically crucial headwaters streams in Appalachia have already been buried under massive valley fills and have filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of valley fills. The proposed rule change could render the lawsuit moot.

For more information: www.ohvec.org.


Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
The information on these pages, to the extent the law allows, remains the exclusive property of Bob and Dianne Weaver and The Hur Herald. information cannot be used in any type of commercial endeavor, or used on a web site without the express permission of the owner. Hur Herald published printed editions 1996-1999, Online Hur Herald Publishing, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021