Fair Congressional Hearing or Puppet Show: You Decide

On Thursday morning, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, will begin a two-part hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) policies on mountaintop removal mining. The committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) is calling the hearings “EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs – Part I and Part II.” Judging…

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On Thursday morning, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, will begin a two-part hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) policies on mountaintop removal mining. The committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) is calling the hearings “EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs – Part I and Part II.

Judging from the name, do you think this hearing by the representative body of our democratic government will be fair and balanced? Reasoned and informed? Democratic?

Just in case you think a fair and informed hearing is an outside possibility, I present to you:

Exhibit A: The Witness List:

Not anywhere on the witness list for either of the hearings is a citizen of coal fields. Absent is the voice of anyone who lives near mountaintop removal mining and can attest the real on-the-ground impacts of this destructive practice.

Instead, we have as witnesses several voices that have ties to the coal industry agenda and little to zero scientific expertise on water resources and environmental impacts of mountaintop removal mining. The list of witnesses includes the various voices for coal industry special interest lobby groups, such as the president and CEO of the National Mining Association, the president of the Ohio Coal Association and the president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

Also sorely lacking are scientists to present – imagine this – the water and environmental impacts of mountaintop removal mining to this Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. One of the environmental regulatory voices that the committee has chosen to speak about Appalachian policies, curiously, is not even from Appalachia. She’s from Arkansas. On the side of current science, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will be the lone voice to present the case for protecting the waters (and communities) of Appalachia from the harmful impacts of mountaintop removal mining. This congressional body seems to be ignoring its own name and charter.

And here’s a very special witness deserving of very special mention: Michael Gardner of Oxford Resources (a coal mining company based in Ohio) and former executive of Murray Energy, another coal mining company. Oxford Resources and Murray Energy are not just any coal mining companies. They are the ones that funded the chair of this House Subcommittee’s very own political campaign. Yes, Murray Energy and Oxford Resources hold the number two and number five spots of all campaign donors to Rep. Bob Gibbs, and he has called their executive as a key witness in his committee’s hearing proceedings.

Taking a deeper look at the witness list to find that all of the private-sector witnesses that Rep. Gibbs has called to testify are in fact his campaign donors, from executives of the National Mining Association to the Ohio Coal Association, to Oxford Resources and Murray Energy.

Exhibit B: Jobs Misinformation and Political Spin:

Contrary to the name of the hearing, the biggest and most consistent threat to Appalachian jobs is not the EPA, but rather the machines and explosives that are replacing the workers and blowing up mountains. The research group Downstream Strategies reports that in Central Appalachia, between 1990 and 2008, direct coal industry employment fell by approximately 18,000 (from about 48,000 to 30,000), a 38-percent decline. The reason for this has been the highly mechanized process of mountaintop removal mining; humans are of little use when coal companies have 20-story-tall draglines to do the work.

Researchers have also found that areas with especially heavy mining actually have the highest unemployment rates in Appalachia. So the coal mining companies, as it turns out, may be themselves the greatest threat to employment in Appalachia.

Exhibit C: The Puppeteers: Key Committee Members and Their Agendas:

As mentioned earlier, Rep. Bob Gibbs is running this stage show, and the above outlines his agenda: Keep the campaign donors happy by advancing policies that allow them to continue polluting, burying and contaminating waterways with impunity.

But there’s an even stronger hand pulling the strings here, and that’s Rep. Nick Joe Rahall (D-WV). Rep. Rahall is the ranking member of the subcommittee’s parent body, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Rahall has made his position on mountaintop removal mining widely known: He’s publicly bragged about using his position on this committee to single-handedly stop any legislation that would curb the pollution of mountaintop removal mining.

When a bill to abolish mountaintop removal mining had gathered 200 bipartisan cosponsors in Congress and was on its way to being passed, Rahall boasted: “I blocked it. I kept it from even having a hearing on it. It would have passed Congress overwhelmingly. It was a freebie. Republicans would have voted to end mountaintop removal.”

If you’re as concerned as I am reading these facts, then please take a moment to call your representatives and tell them to stop the political machinations and to advance the Clean Water Protection Act, which would protect the Appalachian mountains, waters and people from this dangerous pollution.

And in particular, if you have any of the below representatives, who sit on this committee, please call them and urge them to oppose efforts to block the EPA from protecting Appalachian communities from mountaintop removal mining pollution.

Call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected with the offices of the following 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)

Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.

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