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
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
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
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.
the president won't be satisfied until all of Kentucky is as flat as West
"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
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
the destruction into hyper-drive," Williams said. "Is President Bush not
aware of the drastic water shortage and the outcry in many states for
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
"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
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
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
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