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The government is shut down, but the work to end mountaintop removal continues

In a rare television interview, environmental legend and writer Wendell Berry spoke with Bill Moyers about activism and his love of Appalachia.

The federal government is shut down and Congress is failing to act on important issues as they battle over the budget. But across Appalachia, citizens have not quit. We are continuing the work to end mountaintop removal. 

In the last three weeks alone, groups in the region have held more than half a dozen gatherings to test water, petition state agencies for stronger enforcement and celebrate the communities we have come together to protect.

As groups continue to grow locally, the fight to end mountaintop removal is in the national spotlight. This weekend, impacted citizens will provide leadership at Powershift 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Also, renowned author and mountaintop removal activist, Wendell Berry, recently spoke with Bill Moyers about his activism and a no-compromise plan to protect our families and future. You can watch it here!

Thank you for fighting to end mountaintop removal.

West Virginia Coalition Launches Campaign for Better Enforcement of Mining Laws; Files Formal Petition for Federal Intervention

A group of West Virginia citizens gather in front of the Charleston, W.Va., location of the federal Office of Surface Mining, where they delivered a 100-page petition detailing a litany of problems with the state regulatory program before marching to the state Capitol to deliver a copy of the petition to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.


Charleston, W. Va. – Today a coalition of 18 state and national organizations filed a formal administrative law petition with the Federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) alleging widespread problems with the state Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) enforcement of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) and demanding federal intervention. The nearly 100 page petition filed today details a litany of problems with the state regulatory program including granting and renewing mining permits illegally, systemic failures to properly assess the risks of flooding from mine sites, drastic understaffing, and failure to assess meaningful penalties for violations of the law. A group of West Virginia citizens gathered a press conference today in front of the Charleston Office of Surface Mining to deliver the petition and then marched to the state Capitol to deliver a copy to Governor Tomblin.

“The situation here couldn’t be more urgent. Every year there is another flood, another stream dies, another health study comes out showing the devastating effects of unenforced mining law on our communities. We need action and we need it now,” said Debbie Jarrell, Coal River Valley resident and Co-Director of Coal River Mountain Watch.

The filing of the petition represents the first step of the Citizen Action for Real Enforcement (CARE) Campaign, a new effort bringing together citizens and groups across the state to demand accountability from the state’s government and address what they say are decades of failures by state agencies. Currently, the state DEP has the authority and responsibility to enforce federal laws on mining. The petition was filed under a provision of SMCRA that allows citizens to ask the federal OSMRE totake over a state agency if they believe the agency is failing to enforce the law. The filing of this petition triggers an obligation on the part of OSMRE to investigate the citizens’ claims and, if they are deemed valid, to order changes in the state program or assume enforcement themselves.

“People who have lived in the coalfields for generations have reached out to our DEP for help. After many years of pleading our case, we have no confidence in our DEP, nor should we. Our only option is to seek federal intervention to assure that our communities get what everyone deserves – protection from the pollution and toxins that are directly impacting the health of the people that live within these communities,” said retired UWMA miner Chuck Nelson.


Join our Letter to the Editor Campaign

Citizens across the United States are submitting letters to the editor to their local newspaper urging their congressional representatives to co-sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 1837).As constituents, it is our responsibility to ensure that our voice is heard by our representatives in Congress; when we make such requests publicly, our actions become extremely powerful.

Through our letter to the editor campaign, we are providing activists with a tool to educate their communities about the injustice of mountaintop removal and the valley fills that pollute water and bury Appalachian headwater streams.

To see one of this week’s letters click here.

Please contact to join the campaign and submit a letter to your local newspaper. The more letters we submit, the more support for the Clean Water Protection we will generate, bringing us closer to breaking our connection to dirty mountaintop removal coal mining.

UPDATE: Clean Water Protection Act Gains Support

The Clean Water Protection Act, HR 1837, was introduced last month with 45 original cosponsors.

Since then, more than two dozen additional members of Congress have recognized the need to protect our communities and rivers from pollution caused by mountaintop removal. The bill, which restores a key protection of the Clean Water Act, now has 71 cosponsors.

On the bill are returning cosponsors and first-time supporters, Democrats and Republicans, freshmen and senior representatives. 71 cosponsors is great progress, but it’s not enough. We need to keep up this momentum and beat our past record of 172 cosponsors.

Is your member of Congress a cosponsor? Write your Rep. now and urge them to cosponsor the Clean Water Protection Act!

Remember What We Can Accomplish Together

Remembering what we can accomplish together, we keep moving forward.

As I enjoyed Memorial Day with my family and friends, I was reminded that too often we don’t take time to celebrate the victories that we accomplish together. Our spring has been full of successes, and you helped to make them possible.

In April, a federal appeals court affirmed that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to veto mountaintop removal permits even after they have been issued, a power the coal industry has challenged for years. This decision halted Spruce No. 1 Mine, the largest mountaintop removal mine ever proposed in Appalachia.

The day before the courts dealt that major blow to mountaintop removal, another ruling threw out the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 21, ending the streamlining of permits under the Clean Water Act. A few weeks later, with the support of allies across the county, we defeated attempts in Congress to roll back EPA regulations and gut the Clean Water Act.

You have kept the pressure on by contacting policymakers and supporting actions in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, including during the 8th annual End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington, when people from across the country joined in our nation’s capital and attended more than 80 meetings with federal agencies and congressional offices. Over this time, you’ve sent more than 30,000 emails to key decision-makers in the White House and Congress.

We are building new connections and stronger campaigns, and we are winning together. Thank you for your ongoing dedication in the fight to end mountaintop removal coal mining.

Clean Water Protection Act Introduced with 45 Cosponsors

Yesterday, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) introduced the Clean Water Protection Act in the 113th Congress with 45 original cosponsors.

The Clean Water Protection Act, H.R. 1837, is a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives which would sharply reduce mountaintop removal coal mining by making it illegal to dump mining waste into valleys and streams. To date, more than 2,000 miles of streams have been buried or severely polluted.

As the bill sponsors point out in their Dear Colleague letter to other members of Congress:

An EPA scientific study in 2008 shows that more than 63% of the streams sampled below mountaintop removal coal mining operations exhibited long-term impairments to aquatic organisms. In some large watersheds, more than half of the streams are impaired.

Last Congress, more than 130 representatives, from Kentucky to Hawaii, took a stand against mountaintop removal coal mining by cosponsoring the Clean Water Protection Act.

It is crucial that we carry over the momentum we built during the last Congress by having a large group of cosponsors. For your Representative to sign onto the bill, they need to hear from you.

Take action now and tell your Congressperson you expect their support of this important legislation.

Teri Blanton Recognized as Female Leader in Environmental Movement

Kentucky native Teri Blanton was recognized as a leader in the environmental movement at the second annual White House Women and the Environment Summit.

Teri Blanton, native of Harlan, Ky., was recently honored by the White House as one of 100 female leaders in the environmental movement during their second annual White House Women and the Environment Summit.

If you know Teri, it’s no surprise that she would be given such an honor. She has worked tirelessly to educate Kentuckians and mountain people across Appalachia about the adverse effects of living in communities impacted by coal mining.

As a Fellow for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and a representative of The Alliance For Appalachia, she concentrates her efforts on campaigns to protect the health of the people, the water and the air by putting an end to mountaintop removal mining in eastern Kentucky, programs to educate communities about contamination of local waterways with deadly heavy metals, and initiatives that will create a sustainable energy future for Appalachia.

Teri Blanton speaking at a rally led by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

She has spent countless hours in Washington, D.C., and Frankfort, Ky., educating lawmakers on the impacts of mountaintop removal and has traveled across the country raising awareness to new audiences. But one can only lobby the same office so many times before growing frustrated by the lack of progress.

In 2009, Teri traveled to D.C. and participated in the Capitol Climate Action alongside 5,000 others who were outraged at our countries continued reliance on coal and other fossil fuels. The next year she was arrested in front of the White House during Appalachia Rising, alongside 121 others to demand an end to mountaintop removal. She even moved into the Governor’s Mansion for a four-day occupation in 2011 with 13 other Kentuckians after being denied a meeting with Governor Beshear on the issue.

But for Teri, the injustices don’t stop within the hills and hollers of Appalachia, she is a vocal proponent of collaboration across all communities impacted by the extraction, transport, burning and disposal of dirty, polluting fossil fuels.

At the summit, Teri and other female leaders met with with senior White House and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials. The discussion focused on the importance of women and their role in protecting public health and the environment.

Teri will be returning to D.C. next week, along with people from across the country, for the 8th Annual End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington, and will be requesting meetings with many of the same top White House and EPA officials, we will see if they have taken her message to heart by then.

A Good Week for Mountains – Multiple Court Rulings Favor Science and Enforcement

We’re only two days into Earth Week — if we must limit it to one week out of the year — but it sure is getting off to a great start. Two major court rulings over the past two days underscore the need for increased scrutiny from the federal agency responsible for evaluating environmental impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining according to the National Environmental Policy Act and issuing permits under the Clean Water Act.

Yesterday, the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals revoked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers use of Nationwide Permit 21 (NWP 21), a streamlined and inadequate process that has contributed to the expansion of mountaintop removal in Appalachia since 1992.

In its ruling, the three-judge panel called the Corps’ actions “arbitrary and capricious” and found that the agency did not follow the applicable Clean Water Act (CWA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations, which require it to document its assessment of environmental impacts and examine past impacts before issuing new permits. From the ruling:

Though we generally give greatest deference to an agency’s “complex scientific determination[s] within its area of special expertise,” we may not excuse an agency’s failure to follow the procedures required by duly promulgated regulations.

After opting for streamlined nationwide permitting, the Corps took the easier path of preparing an environmental assessment instead of an environmental impact statement. Having done so, it needed to follow the applicable CWA and NEPA regulations by documenting its assessment of environmental impacts and examining past impacts, respectively. Failing these regulatory prerequisites, the Corps leaves us with nothing more than its say-so that it meets CWA and NEPA standards.

According to the Corps, approximately 70 surface mining permits authorized under NWP 21 qualify for a five-year accommodation to “provide and equitable and less burdensome transition” for coal operators. Whatever its impact on existing mountaintop removal permits, the ruling acknowledges that when it comes to protecting Appalachia, the Corps “say-so” is insufficient.

This morning, as word of yesterday’s win for the mountains continued to spread, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed a ruling that overturned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s veto of the Spruce Mine surface mine permit — one of the largest mountaintop removal mines in history.

Earthjustice, which along with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, represented West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council as friends of the court, called the ruling a major blow to the coal industry’s attempt to prevent EPA from protecting communities from the harm caused by mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

While an earlier ruling called EPA’s interpretation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act “magical thinking,” today’s announcement reaffirms the EPA’s role in the permitting process. In her ruling, Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, concluded that:

… The Congress made plain its intent to grant the Administrator authority to prohibit/deny/restrict/withdraw a specification at any time … Thus, the unambiguous language of subsection 404(c) manifests the Congress’s intent to confer on EPA a broad veto power extending beyond the permit issuance.

These rulings come as research supporting the irreversible damage done by valley fills which have been found to irreversibly damage water quality and the once-abundant aquatic life of many Appalachian streams.

“Today’s decision upholds essential protection for all Americans granted by the Clean Water Act,” said Emma Cheuse, an attorney for Earthjustice. “Communities in Appalachia can finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing that EPA always has the final say to stop devastating permits for mountaintop removal mining. Now, we just need EPA to take action to protect more communities and mountain streams before they are gone for good.”

It has been a good few days for mountains, and the communities of Appalachia. We congratulate and thank our allies — especially Earthjustice, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Sierra Club, Coal River Mountain Watch, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and Natural Resources Defense Council — for their dedication and hard work through years of litigation. Our Earth Week, and the weeks ahead, are brighter for it.

Welcome Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Tell Her to Protect Appalachia from Mountaintop Removal

This week, Sally Jewell became the Obama Administration’s Secretary of the Department of the Interior. Jewell is now in a key position to halt the damaging environmental and health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. But in order to make sure that it is a top priority issue, she needs to hear from you right away.

Take action now and tell Secretary Jewell know that we need her leadership.

During President Obama’s first term, the administration promised to restore longstanding stream protections to Appalachia. Despite this assurance, progress has been slow and Appalachian streams remain threatened.

Secretary Jewell has the ability to take immediate action and direct the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to issue a long-overdue rule to prevent the dumping of coal mining waste into streams. We need Jewell to ensure that a strong standard is created and that it is fully implemented in Appalachia.

Contact Secretary Jewell today.

The day before her confirmation, President Obama said that Jewell had an “appreciation for our nation’s tradition of protecting our public lands and heritage, and a keen understanding of what it means to be good stewards of our natural resources.” We are encouraged by this and expect that she will stand up for the heritage and well being of the Appalachian region.

Lend Your Voice: Tell EPA It has the Key to Protect Appalachia

Tell the EPA to protect water quality and community health.

Two months ago we worked together to generate thousands of comments to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency demanding that they use sound science to create a water quality standard that will protect the health and water of Appalachians.

Today, Appalachians are joining with national allies to take this message straight to regional EPA offices in Philadelphia and Atlanta. You can join them by lending your voice.

Call your EPA office today. Let them know that Appalachia is locked to dirty water and that EPA holds the key to a healthy and brighter future for our region.

Before the blasting begins, and long after the blasting stops, mountaintop removal poisons water in Appalachian communities. We need EPA to act on its own science and issue a legally binding water quality standard on conductivity to protect streams and communities in Appalachia from mountaintop removal mining pollution.

Will you join these Appalachians gathered in Philadelphia and Atlanta today? Can you lend your voice?

Appalachian Voices  •  Coal River Mountain Watch  •   Heartwood  •  Keeper of the MountainsKentuckians for the Commonwealth 

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition  •   Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowermentSierra Club Environmental Justice

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards  •   SouthWings  •  Stay Project  •   West Virginia Highlands Conservancy

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