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Moving Mountains by Removing Them

A few years ago, I climbed aboard a small airplane in Charleston, WV, and took off for a bird's eye view of mountaintop removal. The spectacle left me speechless, mouth agape in awe at the vast and total demolition of one of the world's oldest mountain ranges.

When we took off, I foolishly expected to see a mine here, fly for 20 minutes, see another mine there, fly for 20 more minutes, see a final mine and then head back to the airport. Instead, the challenge was trying to find land not completely razed, scarred, demolished or barren just 10 short minutes after takeoff. I'd seen the pictures, I'd spoken with the locals, but never before had I imagined the utter devastation in these once-picturesque West Virginia mountains.

Earthjustice received some bad news on February 13 (a Friday, no less) when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ignored science and the law to overturn a previous victory we had in a lawsuit challenging the legality of five mountaintop removal mining permits in West Virginia. The ruling is only a minor setback, and we mounted an online campaign to ask President Obama to toss out changes his predecessor made to the Clean Water Act that make it even easier to dump rock and rubble into pristine valley streams, burying them forever.

Congress is going to reintroduce the Clean Water Protection Act, a two-sentence bill that would overturn rule changes the Bush administration made in 2002 that allow coal companies to dump their waste directly into U.S. waters by simply calling it "fill." This rule change basically said that the rubble, rock, and debris from hundreds of feet of blown-up mountains can just be dumped into nearby streams. Already more than 100 members of Congress have pledged to co-sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act.

The legislation puts an important nail in the coffin on mountaintop removal, and combined with leadership from President Obama, litigation by groups like Earthjustice, and commitment and involvement from activists like you, we're moving closer to the end of mountaintop removal mining.