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.
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.
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.
A draft report prepared by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement found that many of the massive slurry impoundments in Appalachia do not pass muster. Focused on the compaction of coal waste embankments, the report’s findings speak volumes — “of 73 field density tests performed at seven sites, only 16 yielded passing results.” In the past, some have been quick to call slurry spills and impoundment breakthroughs “Acts of God.” In light of this report and past research, the effect of that tactic should be entirely eroded.
Many of the man-made ponds for storing toxic sludge from coal mining operations have dangerously weak walls because of poor construction methods, according to the synopsis of a study for the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement obtained by The Washington Post.
Tests of the density of these impoundment walls showed flaws at all seven sites surveyed in West Virginia, with only 16 field tests meeting the standards out of 73 conducted, the 2011 report says.
Slurry, also known as coarse coal refuse, is what is left over once companies wash coal to enable it to burn more efficiently. Coal firms have disposed of this combination of solids and water in a few different ways: damming it in large ponds, depositing it in abandoned mines and using a dry filter-press process to compact it.
The Interior Department’s mining agency ordered the survey — which is in draft form and has not been publicly released — after its engineers noticed that companies were using coarse refuse that will not stay compacted except “within a narrow range” of moisture conditions, according to the synopsis. The conditions were not monitored and bulldozers were used to compact the soil, a task for which they are poorly suited, it added.
Chris Holmes, a spokesman for the agency, said it was examining a “potential issue” with compaction of dams but that it “has not found any indication that any coal slurry impoundment is in imminent danger of failure. Had it done so, OSM would have taken action immediately.”
There are 596 coal slurry impoundments in 21 states, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, of which the largest number, 114, are in West Virginia.
From time to time, one of these slurry ponds breaks, posing a threat to both worker safety and the environment. A worker operating a bulldozer was killed in November when an embankment collapsed at Consol Energy’s Robinson Run mine in West Virginia.
In a much bigger spill back in 2000, slurry gushed out of holding pond owned by Massey Energy in Martin County, Ky., into an abandoned mine. That accident contaminated the water supply of more than a dozen communities and killed aquatic life in local waterways.
Jack Spadaro, an engineering consultant and former director of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy, said the analysis underscores the inherent problem in how mining companies store the waste from their operations.
“It’s a very weak material and when it’s wet, it’s even weaker,” Spadaro said in an interview, adding that while there are regulations aimed at preventing accidents, “the problem is the agencies in charge of enforcing them are not enforcing them.”
National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich wrote in an e-mail that the Office of Surface Mining had done a more recent report on impoundments concluding that those near underground mines posed “a minimal risk,” but the agency “nevertheless urged state agencies and mines to ensure their maps of [underground] mines in the vicinity of impoundments are accurate.”
“We were not riled up by nor objected to anything in this report,” he wrote, referring to the 2011 survey of West Virginia impoundments.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We just got the word that MSHA has approved a 50 foot and 2 billion gallon expansion to the 750 foot tall and 6.6 billion gallon Brushy Fork coal slurry dam. Unless the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) denies the expansion, the largest sludge impoundment in Appalachia will become taller than the Hoover Dam. WVDEP and the Federal Office of Surface Mining have been studying the compaction of coal waste dams in WV for the past two years.
Take action now and call Gov. Tomblin at (304) 558-2000. Demand that he order a halt to expansion to Brushy Fork impoundment until they complete the compaction study.
Regulators continue to rely on company-submitted data to prove that impoundments are properly constructed. This is unacceptable given that the same engineers are responsible for the design of this dam as the the disastrous 2000 Martin Co., KY sludge spill and were overseen by the Massey engineering team responsible for the Upper Big Branch disaster. Citizens deserve to know if the existing impoundment is truly safe before this massive dam gets larger.
Hendryx has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles. He’s the director of the West Virginia Rural Health Research Center and after receiving a Ph.D. in psychology, he completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Methodology at the University of Chicago. Little of that seems to matter, however, because much of his research is concentrated on poor health in Appalachian coal-mining communities, especially those where mountaintop removal takes place.
Like other studies Hendryx has conducted, the eastern Kentucky-focused article relies on comparing data gathered in counties with mountaintop removal to data from counties without the mining practice. More than 900 residents of Rowan and Elliott counties (no mountaintop removal) and Floyd County (mountaintop removal) were asked similar questions about their family health history and incidents of cancer that the U.S. Center for Disease Control uses in gathering data.
After ruling out factors including tobacco use, income, education and obesity, the study found that residents of Floyd County suffer a 54 percent higher rate of death from cancer, and dramatically higher incidences of pulmonary and respiratory diseases over the past five years than residents of Elliott and Rowan counties.
These results should surprise no one, least of all the families in Floyd County that participated in the study. Yet somehow, supporters of the widespread use of mountaintop removal still refuse to consider that blowing up mountains might impact human health. (more…)
Conservative Ad Buy Turning Scenic Vistas Bill into Bipartisan Bombshell
When it comes to Tennessee, most everybody has their reason for supporting our mountains. Whether it is a liberal urban Democrat like Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN), or a mainline Republican like Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), its not a complicated equation.
Now, it turns out, a radically right-wing group in Tennessee – the Tennessee Conservatives Union – has not only come out in support of the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, but is planning to run statewide television ads in support of protecting Tennessee’s mountains. This is astounding, to say the least. The Conservatives Union is no small player in Tennessee politics, calling itself the oldest and largest conservative organization in the state. With more than 12,000 members, they are widely credited for defeating the state income tax, among other things. Now they are looking to protect our mountains from, allegedly, a Chinese company that has bought out mineral rights in Tennessee.
Appalachian Voices doesn’t necessarily agree with every sentiment in this advertisement. It doesn’t matter if somebody is from Beijing or Bristol, we don’t think they should be blowing up mountains. We certainly don’t agree with the Conservatives Union on many important issues related to energy and the environment, but the fact that the Tennessee Conservatives Union is stepping up to stop mountaintop removal shows that the breadth of support for protecting Tennessee’s mountains ranges all the way from left-to-right, odd-to-even, and low-to-high.
According to the TN Conservatives Union, this ad will begin airing tomorrow (3/19) on Fox News.
Now is the time for you to pick up the phone and call Committee Members to tell them YOUR reason for supporting the bipartisan Scenic Vistas Protection Act (SB 99/HB 43). The Senate Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee will take up the bill first at 9:30 AM on Wednesday. The House Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources is scheduled to vote at 1:30 the same day.
These committee offices have told us that they are hearing from a LOT of people who are working to protect our mountains, so keep up those calls! Talking points below…
Senate Committee Members:
Chairman Steve Southerland (R-Morristown)/615-741-3851
Mae Beavers (R-Mt Juliet)/ 615-741-2421
Jim Summerville (R-Dickson) / 615-741-4499
Mike Bell (R-Riceville) / 615-741-1946
Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey) / 615-741-3978
Ophelia Ford (D-Memphis) / 615-741-1767
Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) / 615-741-6682
Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) / 615-741-2368
Frank Niceley (R-Knoxville) / 615-741-2061
House Committee Members:
Chairman Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett) / 615-741- 7084
Curtis Halford (R-Dyer) / 615-741-7478
Andy Holt (R-Dresden) / 615-741-7847
Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) / 615-741-7448
Billy Spivey (R-Franklin) / 615-741-4170
John Tidwell (D-New Johnsonville) / 615-741-7098
Ron Travis (R-Dayton) / 615-741-1450
Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) / 615-741-1997 [This is a “Thank you!” as Representative Gilmore is a cosponsor of the Scenic Vistas bill.]
Please pass this along, so that legislators hear from as many Tennesseans as possible. Talking points and bill information below… (more…)
Call today. Tell your committee members to support the Scenic Vistas Protection Act tomorrow.
Tennessee legislators are scheduled to take up a critical vote tomorrow on the Scenic Vistas Protection Act — a bill with broad, bipartisan support that would help ensure the beauty and economic vitality of the Cumberland Plateau.
Call your legislators today and ask them to support the Scenic Vistas Protection Act.
Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) will be carrying the bill (HB 43 / SB 99) in the House Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Senator Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) in the Senate Committee on Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources.
Here are a list of critical legislators who need to hear from you before tomorrow’s vote:
Let these legislators know that you are a Tennessean who cares about protecting our mountains. And please pass this along so that legislators hear from as many of us as possible.
What does this bill do?
The Scenic Vistas Protection Act says that you can’t blast apart virgin ridgelines above 2,000 feet when surface mining for coal.
What does this bill NOT do?
Scenic Vistas DOES NOT impact underground mining or other important industries in Tennessee.
Scenic Vistas DOES NOT Impact any current surface mining permits or their renewals, which are grandfathered in.
A few talking points
As Tennesseans, we love our mountains, and we don’t think we need to blast them apart for a small amount of coal.
We don’t have to hate coal and we don’t have to hate coal mining to want to protect our mountains. We just want Tennessee to be the first state to say “We’re going to mine coal AND protect our mountaintops at the same time.”
Since 1985, the Tennessee coal industry has laid off 85 percent of its workforce, while the percentage of our coal coming from surface mining versus underground mining has increased. Scenic Vistas will help protect coal-mining jobs in our state.
Mountaintop removal is bad business, and even the coal industry is realizing that this destructive form of mining is not worth the cost. Patriot Coal, one of the largest coal companies in the nation, recently announced that it is stopping mountaintop removal operations because not only is it damaging to the environment, but it’s bad for their employees and for the communities where they work.
After you make your calls, e-mail us at email@example.com to let us know what the offices are saying!
Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette wrote yesterday that David C. Hughart, a former Massey official, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the government by thwarting U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration inspections. Hughart has agreed to cooperate with authorities in the ongoing criminal investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster and yesterday in court stated he conspired with Don Blankenship, implicating the former CEO a decade of avoiding safety laws at several mines.
A fairly routine plea hearing here took a surprising twist when U.S. District Judge Irene Berger pressed Hughart to name his co-conspirators and Hughart responded, “the chief executive officer.”
Hughart did not use Blankenship’s name, but Blankenship was CEO of Massey from 2000 until 2010, during the period when the crimes Hughart admitted to committing occurred.
In a nearly three-year investigation that started with the deaths of 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster and has so far prompted four convictions, the accusation by Hughart is the first courtroom statement to specifically allege any wrongdoing by Blankenship.
William Taylor, a lawyer for Blankenship, said his client has done nothing wrong and downplayed the significance of what Hughart said.
“We were quite surprised at the reports of Mr. Hughart’s statements at the time of his guilty plea,” Taylor said. “Don Blankenship did not conspire with anybody to do anything illegal or improper. To the contrary, he did everything he could to make Massey’s mines safe.
“We’re not concerned particularly about the story concerning Mr. Hughart,” Taylor said. “It’s not surprising that people say untrue things when they are trying to reduce a possible prison sentence.”
When he’s sentenced on June 25, Hughart, 54, of Crab Orchard, faces up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $350,000. In a deal with prosecutors, Hughart pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the government by thwarting U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration inspections and one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to violate MSHA safety standards. Hughart also agreed to cooperate with authorities in the ongoing criminal investigation of the mine disaster and broader questions about Massey safety practices.
“Guilty of both charges,” Hughart told Berger when the judge asked him to enter his formal plea.
Hughart did not work at Upper Big Branch, and his plea deal involved crimes he has admitted committing between 2000 and 2010 at Massey’s White Buck operations in Nicholas County, where two mid-level foremen and a Massey operating subsidiary were prosecuted five years ago for criminal safety violations.
Prosecutors identified Hughart as having served as president of Massey’s Green Valley “resource group,” which included White Buck. But Hughart also worked for Massey for more than 20 years, serving as an officer or a director at more than two-dozen subsidiaries, according to public records.
Hughart was fired in March 2010, and internal Massey records, filed in a circuit court case, allege he had failed a random drug test and received kickbacks from a Massey contractor.
In court documents in Hughart’s case, prosecutors alleged a broader conspiracy by unnamed “directors, officers, and agents” of Massey operating companies to put coal production ahead of worker safety and health at “other coal mines owned by Massey.” Those documents, filed in late November, were the first time in their Upper Big Branch probe that prosecutors have formally alleged Massey officials engaged in a scheme that went beyond the Raleigh County mine that exploded on April 5, 2010, and killed 29 workers.