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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.

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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.




Leave “Act of God” claims at the door: OSM study finds Coal dams fail compaction tests

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.

Thanks Sludge Safety Project and Coal River Mountain Watch , who shared the draft report, the clear and present danger of slurry impoundments in Appalachia is being reported on widely in major regional and national papers.

From The Washington Post this morning:

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.




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?




URGENT: Tell Gov. Tomblin to Block the Expansion of Brushy Fork

http://on.fb.me/Z7bBg2We 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.

Please share this image on Facebook to help spread the word!




Stop Brushing off the Bad Stuff: On Mountaintop Removal and Community Health

West Virginia University professor and public health researcher Dr. Michael Hendryx’s latest article, “Personal and Family Health in Rural Areas of Kentucky With and Without Mountaintop Coal Mining,” appeared in the online Journal of Rural Health a couple of days ago. The study immediately gained the attention of Kentucky media, and supporters of the coal industry have been quick to write off Hendryx’s methods and conclusions — they just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

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.
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Tennessee Game Changer: Conservative Union Running Pro-Mountain Ads Statewide

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…
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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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