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Environment

New Court Decision Spells the Disaster for Appalachia and the Region's Drinking Water

The new ruling could mean 90 new mountaintop removal coal mining sites that can dump toxic pollution into our drinking water.

A panel of federal judgesruled in favor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a controversial mountaintop removal mining case. This could open the floodgates on up to 90 new mountaintop removal coal mining operations that had been stalled until now in the permitting process, and which threaten to destroy huge swaths of the Appalachian Mountains. The ruling will permit mining companies to conduct devastating mountaintop removal coal mining operations without acting to minimize stream destruction or conducting adequate environmental reviews. 

These mining discharges will reach downstream water sources and poison everyone’s water – not just those residents near the mines.

Earthjustice and the Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment filed this lawsuit challenging several West Virginia mountaintop removal permits in September 2005, on behalf of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Coal River Mountain Watch. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in March 2007 found those permits violated the Clean Water Act. This ruling overturns that prior victory for Appalachia’s mountains and communities.

One thing is clear in the wake of today’s decision – we must redouble our efforts to protect Appalachia.

Please join us in contacting the Obama Administration at this critical time, to make sure this decision does not unleash a wave of devastation on Appalachia’s communities. President Obama’s EPA has the power to restore mountaintop removal regulations that were gutted by the Bush Administration, essential if we hope to sustain the rivers, mountains, and communities of Appalachia.

One of the mountains threatened by this decision is Coal River Mountain in West Virginia, where Massey Energy has proposed a 6,000-acre mountaintop removal mine, one of the biggest mountains ever slated for mountaintop removal.

The Coal River Wind Project, Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW) and many other organizations have been fighting Massey over the project -- saying that the beautiful Appalachian mountain would offer much more for energy, the local economy, and the environment if it instead was used as a site for wind turbines.

Massey's plan is to blow up the top of the mountain to get at the coal, ruining the site for any future wind power use, not to mention nearby communities, clean water, and wildlife.

On Tuesday, the West Virginia Surface Mining Boardheld another hearing on the site's blasting permit,
and our coalition turned out strong, providing great witnesses on the permitting process and the better benefits of wind power on that site.

Lorelei Scarbro of CRMW said the hearing lasted all day, with both sides of the debate calling witnesses. No one is sure when the board will rule on the permit, but we are unfortunately not very optimistic.

"The surface mind board is very coal friendly," said Scarbro. "But we're still making a concerned effort on this. We're drawing attention to it and raising awareness, yet we have a pretty good sense that they traditionally do not rule in our favor."

Rory McIlmoil of the Coal River Wind Project says the economic analysis conducted by Downstream Strategies shows "that for the local communities and on the county level, a 328 MW wind farm -- and to a greater degree the development of a wind industry in Raleigh County -- provides the public greater economic benefits in terms of jobs, tax revenue and output than the proposed (mountaintop removal mining) would."

Added McIlmoil, "The report also calculates the social and environmental externalities of both options, and shows that the proposed (mountaintop removal) mining actually results in a net economic loss over a 34 year period of over $600 million, and that is a conservative estimate."

You can read the report on the Coal River Wind website.

Scarbro said West Virginia officials have certainly been hearing from the public about the Coal River Wind project, saying she heard that Gov. Joe Manchin's office has been inundated with calls and emails for the past two weeks (Manchin has said he supports Massey in this case).

"Apparently they were answering the phones at one point just saying, 'Yea or nay,'" laughed Scarbro. "I understand he's getting pretty upset about the amount of attention on this."

The public can still take action on this by continuing to contact public officials. "We need the pressure up, we need to talk to our legislators, we need to write letters to the editor on the local level nationwide."

Our local chapter is on board with Scarbro and McIlmoil and the coalition. We are all trying to save this mountain. Scarbro had an excellent point when I spoke with her today.

"Environmentalists have been painted with a broad brush, people say we have no alternatives and we want to take jobs away," she explained. "But this is not true. We want to bring renewable energy to West Virginia, bring in green jobs. We are doing good things."

Bruce Nilles is the director of the Sierra Club's Move Beyond Coal campaign.
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