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Voices of Silence: People Living With Mountaintop Removal Mining

Last Thursday, the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held an absurdly one-sided hearing entitled "EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs – Part I." I've never heard so much agreement in Congress -- but that was, of course, because the only people allowed to speak were chosen to speak because they were already in agreement.

The hearing proceedings amounted to a two-hour verbal back-patting session between a tiny group of House representatives who conducted the hearing and their industry pals whom they asked to testify.

The topic was Environmental Protection Agency policies on mountaintop removal mining, a coal mining practice that involves blowing up mountains and dumping the waste in the streams below. This practice has already buried more than 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia and has dangerously contaminated drinking water supplies for communities near mining sites.

Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio and Rep. Nick Joe Rahall of West Virginia conducted the hearing by pulling together an unabashedly one-sided witness list, making a series of false and unconstested claims about the Clean Water Act and the EPA's authority to veto mining permits, and neglecting to call anyone who lives near mountaintop removal mining to testify. The last offense was perhaps the most stinging, as Dustin White of Boone County, West Virginia, and Jeff and Sharman Chapman-Crane of Eolia, Kentucky, were forced to sit in silence in the hearing room as their representatives, state officials and coal industry executives railed against clean water safeguards that are in place to protect Dustin's and Jeff and Sharman's communities.

Dustin, who came from West Virginia to DC just to attend the hearing, told Energy & Environment Daily: "It's really a slap in the face to the people who are affected by this. They're not hearing the whole story. It's very one-sided and very disappointing that our own West Virginia delegation would not invite anyone impacted from the region ... This practice of mountaintop removal coal extraction is killing people in Appalachia."

Generations of Dustin's family have lived on or next to Cook Mountain -- and it is there that many generations of his family are laid to rest. The once-beautiful Cook Mountain, on which his family raised pigs and sheep for nearly 200 years, is now a blasted, pit-filled mountaintop removal mining site, and his family cemetery barely remains among a barren moonscape of destruction. He and his family have to get permission to visit the cemetery now, and there's no guarantee it won't be destroyed, too.

In early April, Dustin came to Washington, DC to lobby his congressional representatives to visit the coalfields and communities near mountaintop removal sites before they try to block or protest away clean-water protections. He and other coalfield residents had a chance run-in with Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. They told him about the devastation they were facing as a result of mountaintop removal mining, and his response was less than concerned. Watch this video.

Jeff and Sharman Chapman-Crane were also in the hearing room. They came to Washington, DC as a part of Earthjustice's 50 States United for Clean Air event, joining a 70-person delegation of Clean Air Ambassadors from around the country to lobby their members of Congress to support protective, health-based standards for harmful air pollution. Living near mountaintop removal mining sites in Kentucky, they suffer from severe air pollution problems, in addition to water pollution problems.

Jeff and Sharman had been living in Eolia for 26 years, raising a family together and living peacefully in the mountains, when, six years ago, a coal company moved in and began blowing up a mountain near them, filling the air with coal dust and debris, and dumping the waste in their valley's streams. Jeff developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and Sharman developed asthma. They watch their 23-year-old son struggle with breathing problems now, as well. 

So, you can imagine the couple's dismay when the Chapman-Cranes heard Leonard Peters, Kentucky's Energy and Environment Secretary, side with the coal industry executives who were attacking the EPA's administrative procedures on policies that would protect them and their neighbors from a mountaintop removal mining site in their town, just a stone's throw away from their home. "Coal is not cheap energy when you consider the impact to human lives," says Sharman on her Clean Air Ambassador page, where she shares her family's experience and struggles living near a mountaintop removal site.

Dustin, Jeff and Sharman are just a few of the many people affected by this devastating mining practice. If this committee refuses to hear from the people affected by mountaintop removal mining in its hearings, let's make them hear from the rest of us all year 'round -- beginning now! Take action now to stop mountaintop removal mining.

Part II of the Subcommittee's hearing on mountaintop removal policies takes place this Wednesday (May 11).

It is especially important that representatives who sit on this committee are strongly urged to oppose efforts to block the EPA from protecting Appalachian communities from mountaintop removal mining pollution.

If any of the below are your House representatives, please call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to let the EPA do its job -- protect Appalachians from harmful mountaintop removal mining pollution -- and to stand up for clean water in America.

House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Members:
Bob Gibbs (OH), Chairman
Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA), Vice Chair
Timothy Bishop (NY), Ranking Member
Nick J. Rahall, II (WV), (ex officio)

Jason Altmire (PA)
Corrine Brown (FL)
Larry Bucshon (IN)
Shelley Moore Capito (WV)
Michael E. Capuano (MA)
Russ Carnahan (MO)
Steve Cohen (TN)
Jerry F. Costello (IL)
Chip Cravaack (MN)
Rick Crawford (AR)
Jeff Denham (CA)
John J. Duncan, Jr. (TN)
Donna F. Edwards (MD)
Bob Filner (CA)
Andy Harris (MD)
Mazie K. Hirono (HI)
Duncan Hunter (CA)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX)
Timothy V. Johnson (IL)
Jeff Landry (LA)
James Lankford (OK)
John L. Mica (FL), (ex officio)
Gary G. Miller (CA)
Candice S. Miller (MI)
Grace F. Napolitano (CA)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)
Laura Richardson (CA)
Bill Shuster (PA)
Don Young (AK) 

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.