FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE July 31, 2012
Judy Needham: firstname.lastname@example.org, 276-565-1150
Rep. Griffith meets with communities concerned about dangerous mountaintop removal mining
Congressman participates in a community tour of areas negatively impacted by the destructive and controversial practice
Appalachia, VA – On Monday, July 30th, U.S. Congressman Morgan Griffith joined the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) on a tour to see communities devastated by mountaintop removal mining and met with local residents concerned about the negative impacts on their health.
Citizen leaders from SAMS took the Congressman through the town of Appalachia, and the communities of Roda, Derby and Inman to meet local residents, community members and families who are suffering from the dangerous practice of mountaintop removal mining. More than 30 residents came out on a Monday afternoon to share their concerns with Mr. Griffith.
Mountaintop removal mining is a devastating process that has been linked to drinking water contamination, respiratory illness and various forms of cancer caused by the runoff of heavy metals like selenium, arsenic, chromium and the fugitive coal dust that settles on homes, cars and schools.i
In Derby, Maude Jarvis called mountaintop removal an infringement on her rights. “In school I learned that you can do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. With MTR, the coal companies are infringing on our rights to clean water, clean air and healthy communities. It just isn’t right.”
The Congressman made note of how bad the dust was in Roda as his car drove through a cloud of coal dust left behind by a speeding truck. A recently published study showed that Roda has dangerously high levels of particulate matter due to trucks carrying coal from surface mining operations through the town. The levels found far exceeded healthy levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency, posing a serious threat to public health. Particulate matter is known to cause heart disease, respiratory illness and premature death.[i]i
“The President of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Sam Broach, has proposed an idea for the Congressman to help procure funding for scholarships for displaced mine workers, retraining them for greener jobs and the futures of our communities. We need our political leaders to work with us for better, safer economic solutions that will create jobs and build a stronger, more diverse economy in the coalfields.” said Judiana Clark of Appalachia
After the congressman had headed on his way, Judy Needham of Andover, had this to say, “I think other elected representatives need to come too and talk to the everyday people about their concerns about what’s happening to our land, air, water and health. Today, Mr. Griffith saw that we’re not fighting coal mining or jobs, but fighting to save our communities and our lives.”
ii Collection of scientific studies on the health impacts of Mountain Top Removal: http://crmw.net/resources/health-impacts.php
ii Journal of Atmospheric Environment, “Characterization of particulate matter (PM10) related to surface coal mining operations in Appalachia” http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1352231012001781
West Virginians and Virginians visited the headquarters of one of the nation’s largest coal companies to demand the cessation of mountaintop removal operations.
Alpha Natural Resources recently announced plans to acquire Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy with a $7.1 billion buyout. Massey owns the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, where an explosion last year resulted in the deaths of 29 miners, and was fronted by Don Blankenship, a man Rolling Stone magazine called “The Dark Lord of Coal Country.”
Protesters with Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival went to Alpha headquarters in Abingdon, Va., Wednesday to ask Alpha to explore “safe and lasting alternatives to surface mining” in Appalachian communities.
One attendee was Junior Walk, a staff member of Coal River Mountain Watch and a lifelong resident of West Virginia’s Coal River Valley.
“With the takeover of Massey, we are here to demand that Alpha stop destroying our mountains and communities,” Walk said. “It’s our hope that Alpha will become a responsible energy company and invest in a healthy and sustainable future for Appalachia.”
Alpha, however, already conducts surface mining operations and recently unveiled a new website, TruthAboutSurfaceMining.com.
“Surface Mining, though not without its temporary environmental impact, is vital to development,” the website states. “We must extract those minerals and precious metals that we all depend on for our energy, electronics, transportation, infrastructure and other aspects of everyday life.”
On the website, Alpha busts what it calls “myths” about surface mining, including claims about water quality, social impact and reclamation.
Companies that mine from the surface typically do so because it is more cost-efficient to extract the coal. According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2009, all but four of the top-producing mines were surface mines. However, of the four West Virginia mines in the top 40 in production, only one was a surface mine.
Jane Branham, vice president of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, said West Virginians and others in region suffer from the “toxic and devastating” results of mountaintop removal coal mining.
“I hear the same stories from people all over the world who see big fossil fuel industries invade their homes and rape their land for profit,” Branham said. “Those communities do not profit by digging, drilling, fracking and blasting. They not only see their land and water destroyed, they see worsening poverty, negative health impacts and despair. Coalfield communities are among the poorest in our states. The only profiteers are the coal industry; the people are the losers.”
Alpha representatives were presented with letters outlining the demands of the protesters and a copy of a study highlighting the benefits that would result from a Coal River Mountain wind farm.
“If Alpha is unwilling to put a stop to the destruction, the residents state they will continue their struggle on a local, state, and national level to abolish mountaintop removal mining and reclaim communities that have been devastated by this practice,” a RAMPS news release states.
On Tuesday, congressmen Frank Pallone of New Jersey and David Reichert of Washington State, along with 54 original cosponsors, introduced the Clean Water Protection Act, legislation to prevent the dumping of coal mine waste into valley fills. Environmental groups say the practice buries headwater streams and contaminates nearby ground and drinking water with heavy metals and other pollutants.
According to the groups, “mountaintop removal” mining has impacted more than 500 mountains in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee to date. According to the EPA, the practice has also buried or destroyed more than 2,000 miles of streams in those states.
“If we are serious about moving America toward a clean energy future, banning mountaintop removal must be the first step,” said Jane Branham of SAMS. “For our economy, for our health, and for our heritage — we need this administration and this Congress to act.”
“Americans want to see an end to the destruction of our oldest and most biologically diverse mountains, and the administration has taken limited steps towards restricting the impacts of mountaintop removal,” said J.W. Randolph, legislative associate for Appalachian Voices. “Congress needs to listen to the will of the people and pass legislation that would help to end mountaintop removal, and block any legislative attempt to enshrine the practice.”
Members of the Alliance for Appalachia include: The Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Appalachian Voices, Appalshop, Coal River Mountain Watch, Heartwood, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, SouthWings, SOCM (Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment), and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
Excerpt from “Blight-resistant chestnut trees planted in Dickenson County”
DEBRA MCCOWN/BRISTOL HEARALD COURIER
Miners hugging trees?
John Paul Jones, director of environmental affairs for Alpha, told the children a little bit about the Forestry Reclamation Approach, the system developed by Virginia Tech researchers to help native hardwoods grow well on surface mined land.
Among other things, it involves tilling up the compacted soil in a way that helps the trees put down roots. By planting trees, Jones said, the kids were a part of the process of reclaiming the mined land back to mountains and forests.
“If you’ve heard people or you’ve seen people on TV say that we’re leaving a mess out here” by mining the mountaintops, he said, “you’ll be able to tell them that isn’t the truth at all.”
He also put in a plug for a new industry-created website entitled “The Truth about Surface Mining,” which focuses on countering the arguments of environmental groups opposed to mining in the Appalachian region.
Several of those groups, including Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards based in Big Stone Gap, criticize the practice because it alters the landscape, pollutes adjacent streams and creates an unhealthy environment for people.
Tom Shope, regional director for the federal Office of Surface Mining, said the annual Arbor Day events are symbolic of an ongoing partnership among industry, federal and state agencies, and environmentalists and academics.
“No other rulemaking would be done, based on what they did today,” Bill Hayden, public affairs director for DEQ, said Friday.
Hayden added that there is no specific timetable for generating the guidance memorandum. “We would certainly get it done as efficiently as we can,” he said. “The main part the board was looking for was that all the steps coal companies agreed to previously would continue to be done. DMME as well as DEQ are looking at the situation.”
“The process on the guidance memo is in the very early stages, so we don’t have a lot of detail yet,” Hayden said. He added that the board asked DEQ to develop a guidance memorandum regarding fugitive dust complying with the memorandum of agreement between DEQ and DMME.
In December 2009, DMME and DEQ entered into a memorandum of agreement to coordinate their fugitive-dust control efforts on and near active coal mining sites.
The 2009 agreement was reached to “facilitate efficient and effective administration” of state and federal fugitive dust laws and regulations as well as to provide a mechanism for coordination between the two agencies.
The 2009 agreement affirmed DMME as the agency reponsible for regulating activities associated with coal mining.
Hayden said DEQ’s air compliance staff will begin drafting the guidance soon. “We expect the guidance memorandum to address DEQ’s interpretation of our existing fugitive dust regulations. It is not likely to deal much with the Clean Air Act, because the majority of coal facilities are too small to be subject to that law. The guidance document also will not address water issues under the Clean Water Act,” he said.
In June 2010, with one member absent, the board delivered a tie vote on a proposal to make the fugitive dust control measures a permanent part of statewide Department of Environmental Quality regulations.
The motion on the proposal died because of the tie. However, that meant the issue was still technically before the board, according to Hayden. Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) submitted a request for the board to address the issue again.
Board chairman Hullihen Moore and vice-chairman Sterling E. Rives III, who voted in favor of the proposal last year, joined the five other board members in opposing it Friday. A third member who voted for the proposal last year is no longer on the board. Three members who voted against the proposal last year are still on the board, along with two people appointed by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Eleven members of SAMS and residents of Wise County traveled to Richmond last week to testify before the board. Residents told the board that dust kicked up by coal trucks have made their lives miserable, clogging indoor filtration systems, coating vehicles and homes and aggravating respiratory illnesses.
“This is one of the worst places I’ve ever lived in terms of dust and dirt,” said Andy Eldridge, a veteran who has lived around the world and settled in the former coal camp of Roda. “You wash your car one day and the next day it looks like you never touched it.”
Eldridge told the board his wife and a grandchild suffer from asthma and others complained of health problems they feel are related to fugitive coal dust. Residents told the board that voluntary efforts made by the coal companies are not enough and asked for permanent, enforcable regulations that would require mandatory dust control. They complained that trucks will dodge the washer and travel down roads, trailing a cloud of dust. Property owners have complained dozens of times to DMME, which oversees voluntary effors made by coal companies.
The proposal was opposed by the coal industry and a long list of other industries, which have argued that fugitive dust is a “locality specific” issue, meaning that the amendments would apply statewide and may not be appropriate for other industries and locations.
John T. Heard, representing the Richmond-based Virginia Coal Association, said Friday that “the requested petition and regulatory actions are unnecessary” and that “DMME can handle this situation.”
Since last June, according to DEQ, DMME has received 35 complaints about dust on roads or haul road problems, while DEQ has received another four. Under the memorandum of agreement, DMME now reports off-site dust complaints to DEQ.
The petition that the board took up again Friday asked:
• That DEQ issue a fugitive dust permit for Roda operators;
• That DEQ institute an enforcement proceeding against Roda operators for violation of fugitive dust regulations under state law; and
• That the state’s existing fugitive dust regulations be amended to incorporate the new provisions discussed at the board’s June 4, 2010 meeting.
Among the amendments offered by the groups last year was a request for additional language to clarify what is meant by “reasonable precautions.” The amendments call for the use of water to wash trucks, including the wheels and undercarriage; cleaning empty truck beds and other vehicle parts that have had contact with material capable of emitting dust; the installation of rumble strips or speed bumps to slow trucks and dislodge mud and other materials before the trucks reach public roads.
Some information for this story was taken from Associated Press reports.