Successful Rally at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

Successful Rally at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

SAMS DC

Last week dozens of residents from Appalachia and allies from across the country rallied at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). This office oversees the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Surface Mining and other agencies that are responsible for protecting Appalachian residents from the severe water and health impacts of mountaintop removal and other dangerous coal practices.

Appalachian leaders met with the agencies and were disappointed with the attitude the administration showed towards those that had traveled many hours to DC for the visit. The agency representatives asked for more time to work on the issue, but mountain leaders have been waiting five years since an Obama administration Memorandum of Understanding that promised action against the destructive practice as well as reinvestment in the economy of the region.

The tragic and unbelievable series of toxic water spills in Appalachia in 2014 alone – from the 300,0000 people impacted by the spill in West Virginia to coal ash and coal slurry spills in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina – are just the most recent disasters to show the failures of the Obama Administration to follow through on its promises to protect Appalachian communities. There have been over 500 mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining and the region is ready for a just transition to a new economy beyond this destructive practice.

The group engaged in a sit-in on the front steps of the CEQ and waited several hours for an agency representative to come out to speak with them – as well as hosting a square dance with a live band playing traditional Appalachian music in front of the CEQ. In addition, residents organized a bucket brigade to collect clean water from DC to bring back home to their communities which do not have access to safe water to drink.

When no representative agreed to meet with residents after several hours of waiting, residents placed a report card on the steps which evaluated the progress so far of the CEQ on important areas such as protecting the health and water of Appalachia. Participants in the rally gave the administration a grade of “incomplete.”

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Residents Demand Transparency, New Jobs on Problem Strip Mine in Appalachia

Looney Ridge Letter Delivery 030

Pre-dawn letter delivery to strip mine gates in response to denial of citizen inspection

Appalachia, VA – In the pre-dawn rain, members of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) waited to deliver a citizen mine inspection request letter to workers at the foot of an A&G Coal Corp. surface mine in Appalachia, VA. The strip mine on Looney Ridge of Black Mountain, above the community of Inman, was the source of the boulder that killed three-year-old Jeremy Davidson 10 years ago today. The mine was recently cited for bond forfeiture by the Virginia Department of Mines Minerals and Energy. Local residents are concerned that the mine, and many others controlled by billionaire Jim Justice, continues to be out of compliance for required reclamation and reforestation.

The community group is asking that Jim Justice and the VA DMME allow for regular citizen mine inspections to ensure that Justice is in compliance with the law, and applying the best available reclamation techniques on operations like this one. The group has previously asked for citizen inspections of this mine, as allowed by SMCRA, but been denied.

The Wise County residents hoped to meet the morning shift at 5:30 this morning, before delivering the same mine inspection request to the DMME. By 7:00 AM, workers had still not arrived, and so the group left their letter behind a band of caution tape in front of the entrance. The letter can be found at JusticeToJustice.com, or below.

“I’m from Inman and we’re here today to deliver a letter to someone from the Justice Group,“ said Ben Hooper, member of SAMS. “They should be working here today as part of the deal worked out with the DMME for reclamation on Looney Ridge, where their bond was revoked, but apparently they’re not. We left a letter here at the entrance to the site, we’re hoping to get the attention of Mr. Jim Justice, to tell him that he needs to be here, working, cleaning up the mess he’s made, as he promised the DMME he would. We need these issues addressed, for the safety and health of the people living in these communities below these operations.

Justice’s operations across the region have fallen under scrutiny, including a $10 million dollar reclamation settlement announced August 19th in Kentucky, including $1.5 million in fines. In July it was revealed by the Louisville Courier-Journal that Justice companies had at least 266 pending surface mine violations in five states .

Jim Justice was recently handed down bond forfeiture requests by the VA DMME for failure to comply with reclamation requirements on four different Wise County mines. The group is demanding that Justice immediately put people to work reclaiming and reforesting these operations, using techniques prescribed by the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, and that citizens be allowed to monitor these activities to ensure independent verification of the work.

Jane Branham, Vice President of SAMS, shared “We came here, before daylight, to the gates of A&G’s operations, to deliver a message: Pay off your fines, pay your debts to workers, and clean up your mess, or get out of our community. These jobs are sitting idle, and people are not working. There’s opportunity to create lasting jobs, and a better future, if we clean up these strip jobs. There’s enormous potential for jobs in healing the land and sustainably using our natural resources. Justice wants more permits to create more devastation, and we want it to stop.”

According to a 2010 study by West Virginia-based Downstream Strategies, there is potential for up to 35,000 new jobs in the Central Appalachian region through the remediation of bond forfeiture sites, abandoned mine lands and acid mine drainage sites.

The letter delivery this morning is part of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards Justice to Justice campaign. The campaign aims to draw attention to Jim Justice’s legacy of violations and impacts to communities, and to push him to aid in the economic future of Central Appalachia by putting people to work healing the land that has been scarred by his surface operations.

***

References:

Three year old killed in 2004:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4489461

 

Bond forfeiture notices: http://www.roanoke.com/news/regulators-seek-funds-from-four-justice-coal-mines/article_d38dffc9-6f2d-5df8-9dd9-8cf532c9ab28.html

 

$10 million settlement:

http://www.courier-journal.com/story/tech/science/environment/2014/08/19/kentucky-regulators-settle-jim-justice-mining-violations/14287377/

 

266 violations in 5 states:

http://www.courier-journal.com/story/tech/science/environment/2014/07/30/beshear-political-supporter-faces-big-environmental-enforcement-actions-fines/13371809/

 

Appalachian Regional Regforestation Initiative Forest Reclamation Approach:

http://arri.osmre.gov/FRA/FRApproach.shtm

 

Downstream Strategies 2010 report: “Creating green jobs and economic diversification in Central Appalachia by reclaiming polluting coal mines”

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB8QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.appalachiantransition.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2014%2F05%2FHansen-Essay-FINAL.pdf&ei=Msv0U6ylDtCYyAS_24HQCQ&usg=AFQjCNEXKSCP7atxw0iqs1E8FEqn_LOwqg&sig2=EiMYN2RM8lChAWe6dVDGbQ&bvm=bv.73231344,d.aWw

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) is an organization of concerned community members and their allies who are working to stop the destruction of our communities by surface coal mining, to improve the quality of life in our area, and to help rebuild sustainable communities. We support safe and responsible underground mining and work for the diversification of our coalfield economies.

www.samsva.org

 

The Justice To Justice Campaign is a regional effort calling on Jim Justice to commit to supporting a bright, healthy future, a diverse economy, and fair treatment of workers across Central Appalachia.

www.JusticeToJustice.com

Citizen Mine Inspection Request Letter

Delivered 8/20/14

 

Justice Group operations across the region are facing cessation orders and violations from both state and federal agencies. We believe that this mine is in violation of SMCRA, the Clean Water Act and other statutes meant to protect human health and communities from the worst impacts of surface mining

We call on Jim Justice to immediately, settle outstanding debts to workers, settle fines and violations with regulatory agencies, and to put local people to work on these permits by beginning reclamation and reforestation activities.

Jim Justice’s operations have demonstrated an on going problem with maintaining full compliance of laws meant to protect communities, and state agencies have not done enough to reign in these problem sites.

We as SAMS call on Justice to voluntarily start cleaning up his mess, as a gesture of good faith, we would like to see you begin by granting us a citizen inspection that was denied to us last year when the Meg Lynn land permit on Looney Ridge was being renewed.    We would also like permission to test outfalls on this permit, as well as the Bearpen Hollow and Looney Ridge Surface mine permit, where you failed to turn in quarterly monitoring reports according NOV  JRJ0000710 as well NOV JRJ0000992.   We wish to verify for ourselves, the water quality from these ponds.

 

We are focusing on this operation today due to pending bond forfeitures, but we are generally concerned about all of your operations, and would like to set up a meeting with Jim Justice and Southern Coal leadership, to discuss our concerns.

 

If you wish to address our concerns feel free to contact us at our office at 276-565-6167, or via email:  samsva@gmail.com.

Sincerely

 

The Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards,

 

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DMME holds hearing on A&G’s formal appeal of Ison Rock Ridge permit application denial

BIG STONE GAP, VA – The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) held a formal appeal on July 29 for the denial of A&G’s permit application to mine Ison Rock Ridge. A&G issued the formal appeal earlier this year. Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) and the Sierra Club applaud the DMME’s original decision and have opposed A&G’s formal appeal, arguing that A&G failed to take the necessary steps in applying for the permit.

Community members from the impacted communities of Appalachia, Inman, Andover, Arno, and Derby, and SAMS members have fought the proposed Ison Rock Ridge surface mine for the last seven years. The threat of increased truck traffic, coal dust, and stream sedimentation and pollution has loomed over these communities, endangering their livelihood. The proposed valley fills of the operation would bury headwater streams and further impair Callahan Creek. Additionally, in numerous peer-review studies, communities near mountaintop removal operations have been shown to have higher rates of cancer, heart disease, lung and kidney disease, and birth defects. The destruction of Ison Rock Ridge amidst coal’s inevitable decline would have grave effects on the long-term health and viability of the area.

“I hope that this will be the end of the Ison Rock Ridge permit, justice will be done, and the people in the communities affected by the permit can finally know that our mountains will be there hopefully forever.” SAMS member and Andover resident Judy Needham said after the hearing.

The DMME denied A&G’s permit application for Ison Rock Ridge in February of last year due to the coal company’s outstanding mine permit violations in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia and failure to post the necessary bond and fees. Following today’s hearing, a ruling will be issued after written closing arguments have been submitted.

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards was represented in this matter by the Sierra Club.

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APPEALS COURT UPHOLDS RULING THAT VIRGINIA MINES ARE LIABLE FOR SELENIUM POLLUTION

APPEALS COURT UPHOLDS RULING THAT VIRGINIA MINES ARE LIABLE FOR SELENIUM POLLUTION

Mountaintop Removal Mines are not automatically shielded; will be held accountable for unpermitted pollution

Wise County, VA – Today, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that A&G Coal Corporation, a subsidiary owned by coal billionaire Jim Justice, is responsible for toxic selenium pollution from its Kelly Branch Surface Mine in Wise County, Virginia. The ruling sets a precedent that coal mines in Virginia which produce selenium pollution will be held accountable unless they explicitly disclose the potential for discharges of that pollution to the state as part of the permit application process.

The ruling upholds an earlier district court opinion in favor of a coalition of environmental groups which brought the case against A&G, including Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices, and Sierra Club.

The ruling’s significance extends beyond Mountaintop removal mining in Virginia, as it sets an important precedent for any lawsuit challenging any facility claiming a “permit shield” for discharges of pollution that are not limited by the Clean Water Act discharge (NPDES) permit. Other states covered by the 4th District Circuit Court include West Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Maryland.

Water monitoring conducted by the groups demonstrated that A&G’s Kelly Branch Mine dumped the toxic pollutant selenium into streams at levels above state water quality standards, even though the mine’s permit does not allow such pollution. The groups’ lawsuit alleged that the unpermitted pollution was in violation of the Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

“Today, the courts are forcing coal billionaire Jim Justice to clean up his polluting mine in Wise County,” said Marley Green, Community Organizer with the Sierra Club in Southwest Virginia. “We are happy to see the courts uphold laws meant to protect communities and promote healthy streams. Pollutants like selenium, dumped by mountaintop removal operations, have left our creeks and rivers struggling to sustain life, and it’s past time that those responsible are held accountable.”

Selenium, a toxic element that can cause reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal mining operations across Appalachia. Selenium accumulates in the tissues of aquatic organisms over time, and experts predict that waterways across Appalachia could be on the brink of collapse due to increasing levels of the pollutant.

“It’s good to see the courts standing for the people, and not bowing down to King Coal. Looking at what’s right and what’s wrong, and not just what’s best for the corporations” said Sam Broach, President of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, “We need better protection from this powerful industry, and from industry tycoons like Jim Justice, to make sure that when they leave town, we’re not left holding the bill for toxic pollution.”

“This is a great decision for the people and streams of Virginia,” said Eric Chance, Water Quality Specialist for Appalachian Voices. “Making sure mining companies have to deal with all of their toxic pollution is crucial to the health of streams, people and local economies. In Virginia recreational fishing employs 20 times more people than surface mining does.”

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices, and the Sierra Club were represented in this matter by Isak Howell and Joe Lovett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

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