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More from the U.S. Senate Hearing on Mountaintop Removal

The first witness, an EPA official, was questioned extensively about the impacts both locally and globally of destroying entire forests, flattening mountains, and increasing flooding as a result of mountaintop removal mining.

In the second witness panel are: Paul Sloan, Deputy Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation; Randy Huffman, Cabinet Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection; Dr. Margaret Palmer, Laboratory Director of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at the University of Maryland; and Maria Gunnoe, coalfield activist and winner of the prestigious 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize.

Sloan discussed the forests, rivers and natural resources of Tennessee, including the Cumberland Plateau. Coal mining began here in the 1800s, and many of those activities have left a substantial scar on this pristine natural landscape. Sloan supports the Appalachian Restoration Act and the Clean Water Protection Act, two important bills in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, respectively, that will guarantee protections for our waters and curtail many of the activities related to mountaintop removal mining. I've written about both of these bills before.

Randy Huffman, from West Virginia, said that mountaintop removal mining is one of many surface mining activities that is allowed and regulated under the Surface Mining Control and Recovery Act. He went on to chide EPA for creating an "uncertain regulatory climate" surrounding mountaintop removal and seemed to do a better job of defending the practice of mountaintop removal mining rather than of protecting the environment.

Despite all the claims of the regulators, none stood up so strongly as Maria Gunnoe, a coalfield activist and member of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, one of our clients and coalition partners. She said, regarding the West Virginia DEP claims of economic benefit from mountaintop removal mine sites, "If people cannot live in these areas, there’s no need for shopping malls."

Gunnoe continued: "What goes on where we live is a massive amount of blasting that goes on around our homes. What it does to our air quality is horrible. My children and my self suffer from this destruction. We can live without energy in West Virginia but we cannot live without good, healthy, clean water. In 1960 we had 150,000 coal mining jobs in West Virginia alone. Today, we have less than 15,000 jobs. Mountaintop removal is not about jobs. Mountaintop removal is a human rights issue. We have a right to clean water and that right is being taken away from us in West Virginia. There is no replacing that, there is no reclaiming the land to what it once was." Strong, passionate words from a woman who is living at ground zero in the mountaintop removal fight.

The committee is taking a 10 minute recess, with plans to return with testimony from Dr. Margaret Palmer. Stay tuned for more.

Tags:  Coal, Congress, Water