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Mountaintop Removal Mining in the Senate, Part 3

Dr. Margaret Palmer is a world renowned water biologist who works at the university of Maryland, but has a home in West Virginia and family from the Appalachia region. "Headwater streams are exponentially more important than their size would suggest," said Dr. Palmer in testimony before the Senate. She compared headwater streams to the small capillaries in our lungs that distribute the oxygen necessary for life to our bodies. Without those capillaries (and similarly, without the headwaters) we (and the surrounding environment) would not be able to live.

Contaminants travel great distances downstream, with toxic effects. Selenium, for example, can cause huge curvatures in the spines of fish and two eyes on one side of the head. Dr. Palmer described the loss of mayflies and what they represent: it's not about bugs vs. people, it's that the loss of bugs like the mayfly signifies much larger and dangerous problems.

She continued, saying that mitigation is simply not working. "Attempts to make streams resulted in ditches...but there is no correlating evidence that these actually work. Digging a ditch, adding rock and diverting water into it does not make a functional stream."

In a brilliant comparison she said, "My husband is a really good looking guy. But he's got high blood pressure." Would a doctor give him a clean bill of health simply because he looks good on the outside? Of course not! But this is exactly what is being done with these so called "streams" that the coal companies are creating in an attempt to return the land to what it once was.

As Maria Gunnoe said earlier in her testimony, there's no way to recreate what is being destroyed. Dr. Palmer added the expertise that proves this point: there is no scientific evidence to show that streams and headwaters can simply be recreated.

Sen. Cardin challenged testimony from Huffman that economic development opportunities from mountaintop removal mining don't seem to be playing out in the way he claimed. As Maria Gunnoe testified, "If people cannot live in these areas, there’s no need for shopping malls."

Huffman admitted his agency has not been historically good at turning these areas into the "economic development opportunities" he mentioned. DEP has plans to make more use of these lands (apparently WV Gov. Manchin just signed legislation that would require mining lands to coordinate efforts to reclaim these lands). Sen. Cardin was not impressed, noting that less than 1% of mined lands have been reclaimed for economic redevelopment in West Virginia.

The hearing was adjourned at 5pm.

Tags:  Coal, Congress, Water