Federal Court Strikes Down Bush-Era Stream-Dumping Rule

Federal Court Strikes Down Bush-Era Stream-Dumping Rule
Pro-mountaintop removal measure and threat to clean water gets the axe

Washington, D.C. Today a federal court struck down a controversial George W. Bush administration rule that opened up Appalachia’s streams and waterways to toxic dumping from destructive mountaintop removal mining operations.

Numerous national and Appalachian environmental and community groups challenged the midnight rule from 2008, which repealed a longstanding stream protection — a “buffer zone” of protection from mining activities and dumping around waterways. Earthjustice, on behalf of Coal River Mountain Watch, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Statewide Organizing For Community Empowerment, Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Waterkeeper Alliance, and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and together with co-counsel at Appalachian Mountain Advocates, the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, and Sierra Club, brought one of the legal challenges to the 2008 Bush rule, arguing that the rule unlawfully weakened protection for vital water resources.

Before the Bush rule eliminated the “stream buffer zone,” this safeguard stood for decades in order to protect American waterways from the type of extreme destruction and obliteration that is now being caused by mountaintop removal mining. Mountaintop removal mining has buried an estimated 2,400 miles of Appalachian streams and polluted many more miles of waterways.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down the Bush rule because it violated the Endangered Species Act. The court determined it was unnecessary to consider the many other claims against the rule, including the flaws alleged in Earthjustice’s case.

The following statement is from Earthjustice attorney Neil Gormley:

“This decision restores longstanding stream protections and finally puts an end to the Bush administration’s attempt to let mining companies dump toxic waste into our waterways. We’re glad to see it struck from the books and gone as the law of the land. Good riddance to a harmful midnight rule that hurts communities and waterways.

“As the ongoing water crisis in West Virginia unfortunately shows, these communities need stronger water protections.

“Right now, there’s an effort in the U.S. House of Representatives to force states to adopt this same flawed rule. The House will soon vote on H.R. 2824, a cynical attempt by friends of coal and polluter allies in Congress to take this weak, confusing, and contradictory rule and make it a centerpiece of the surface mining law. We hope this clear court decision puts that idea to rest. ”

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Penn Virginia Faces Legal Challenge for Toxic Water Pollution: Community Groups Protest Coal Mining Pollution and “Bully Tactics”

ROANOKE, VA – Today, a coalition of citizen and environmental groups filed a legal action with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia claiming that Penn Virginia Operating Company is violating Clean Water Act protections on property that it owns that includes former coal mining sites near the town of Appalachia in Wise County, Virginia. The groups have found through their own research including open records requests that Penn Virginia is violating Clean Water Act protections by dumping toxic selenium into streams at seven locations on its property.

Penn Virginia responded to the initial notice informing the company of the coalition’s intent to sue by serving members of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) with cease and desist orders. These orders bar SAMS members from entering any Penn Virginia owned land, including land that contains members’ family cemeteries.

“This is a bully tactic and a serious insult to me and my family,” said Sam Broach, President of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “Penn Virginia is using its corporate power to deny me the basic right to visit my family graveyard.”

“For too long the coal industry – including the out of state corporations that own the land and coal – has been able to get away with violating pollution standards,” said Glen Besa, Virginia Director of the Sierra Club. “This lawsuit is a message to Penn Virginia that they must obey the pollution laws or citizens will take action.”

Penn Virginia Operating Company, based out of Radnor, Pennsylvania, owns land in six states that it leases to third parties, including coal mining interests. Penn Virginia is a subsidiary of Penn Virginia Resource Partners, which is the largest single landowner in Wise County.

“Far too often, coal impacted communities are left with toxic water and depressed economies while large out of state companies make millions,” said Eric Chance, Water Quality Specialist for Appalachian Voices. “Penn Virginia’s failure to address these longstanding sources of pollution shows a disregard for the health of the people, land and water of Appalachia.”

Pollution from coal mines is not limited to active surface mines. Because the ultimate source of the pollution comes from materials exposed through mining that remain on site, abandoned, and even reclaimed, mined sites continue to pollute. In many cases the owners of former mine sites do not have Clean Water Act discharge permits for these sites. Typically, these owners are large land holding companies who also own active mountaintop removal coal mining sites. Federal and state regulators typically do not monitor the discharges from these former mine sites.

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

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SAMS members its time to start making nominations for our annual election! Nominations can be made now through February 18th.  Nominations are needed for  President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and two vacant board seats. Send nominations to Rebecca.holmes@ncf.edu. Nominations can only be made if dues are current. If dues need to be updated, you can donate here on our website. Ten dollars is all it takes!!

Election day will be at the March 18th membership meeting 6:30 at the SAMS office. Members please make sure dues have been paid by March 8th, so you can cast your ballot. Members must be present to vote. Thank you wonderful SAMS members!!

Feel free to send any questions to emilyrpomfrey@gmail.com.


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Protect our local streams! Community Meeting in Inman

Our awesome community volunteers have been out and about monitoring the water quality of streams and creeks in Southwest Virginia as part of a regional water-testing program – the Appalachian Citizens Enforcement Project.

We recently found Selenium, a toxic chemical, in a number of local creeks and are concerned that it is damaging stream health.

Our water-testing results for Looney Creek (which runs through Inman), will be presented at a community meeting in Inman on January 20th.

With your help we can ensure that the companies responsible for this pollution clean it up. Come along to this public meeting to find out how you can join a regional network of volunteers protecting the health of our local streams.

Monday 20 January 2014

Inman Community Center
(Located at the Inman Village Apartments, Don Whitehead Drive, Inman. 5min drive from Appalachia, VA)
Snacks provided, All Welcome!
For more information contact SAMS on 276-565-6167

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