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Maria Gunnoe Testifies Before Congress: Mountaintop Removal Is Killing People

"Why is it acceptable to depopulate our communities and culture, poison our water and air and leave us to die in a post mining waste land for temporary jobs and energy?"
 
 
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In a heroic effort to overcome the theatrics of a Congressional hearing gone wild on Big Coal slogans and anti-EPA fervor,  Goldman Prize-winning activist Maria Gunnoe brought the deadly and costly realities of mountaintop removal mining in the central Appalachian coalfields–and a few moments of sanity–to Washington, DC last week.

Testifying at the Subcommittee on  Energy and Mineral Resources Oversight Hearing on the “Obama Administration’s Actions Against the Spruce Coal Mine: Canceled Permits, Lawsuits and Lost Jobs,” where wild-eyed accusations and embellished coal statistics by Republican extremists and coal industry sycophants reduced the hearing to the level of a buffoonish county fair tent show, Gunnoe single-handedly pointed out the well-documented health and human crises from mountaintop removal operations and turned the table with her own poignant question: “Why is it acceptable to depopulate our communities and culture, poison our water and air and leave us to die in a post mining waste land for temporary jobs and energy?”

Dispelling the misinformation over so-called lost jobs from environmental regulatory actions, Gunnoe debunked the hearing’s “war on coal” mania with a reality check on the actual lives and livelihoods at stake. “There is a war in Appalachia, do believe this,” Gunnoe told the members of Congress. “This war is not on coal, coal jobs, or the coal industry. This war is on these mountains, our water and the people who depend on it all.”

Here’s Gunnoe’s statement, along with a  link to a slide show she entered into the record:

I am Maria Gunnoe from Boone County WV and I (like 100’s of others) help to represent the stories of the Appalachian Communities where coal mining impacts are killing the people and depopulating our mountain culture. Thank each of you for allowing me the opportunity to speak to you. I appreciate your obligations and responsibilities in protecting and serving all US citizens. My hope is that you listen and hear these pleas for our lives from the Southern Mountains of Appalachia where these atrocious mountaintop removal permits are operating.

The Spruce No. 1 permit is in the headwaters of Pigeon Roost creek. This stream and the people of Blair seem unimportant to most people in this room but to me and the people of Blair this stream is a part of our home. When mountaintop removal is permitted near your home, you will soon be forced to leave what is the birthplace of your family and your children’s birthrights as heirs to your family’s land. You are forced (by destruction) to leave the American dream that our forefathers prepared and fought for. Why is it acceptable to depopulate our communities and culture, poison our water and air and leave us to die in a post mining waste land for temporary jobs and energy? You should ask yourselves: are we knowingly and willingly flipping on our lights and lining our pockets at the expense of the lives, livelihoods and the health of the people in Appalachia? The answer to this in my opinion is YES you are!

The Spruce No. 1 permit is one of the first examples of steps that the EPA has taken to STOP irresponsible mining practices which were ignored during the Bush Administration. People from all over Appalachia have lobbied the EPA for these protections for the past 15 years. During the Bush Administration the oversight of mountaintop removal permits was non-existent. The Bush Administration sent word to W.Va state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Stephanie Timmermyer to get these permits pushed through as quickly as possible, In George Bush’s words “We need this coal, our homeland security depends on it.” The coal industry was allowed to do as they please during the 8 years of the Bush Administration.

 
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