The hearing started promptly at 3:30 pm with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), a cosponsor of the Appalachia Restoration Act, stating that mountaintop removal mining "adversely effects the economies of the region."
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), also a cosponsor of the Appalachia Restoration Act, offered opening remarks including, "it’s not necessary to destroy our mountaintops in order to have enough coal…saving our mountaintops is important to me."
To be clear, Alexander noted that this legislation doesn’t ban surface mining, but rather adds language to the Clean Water Act that prohibits the dumping of fill material into U.S. waters, a practice often used by coal companies performing mountaintop removal mining.
Unfortunately, noted global warming skeptic Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) spent much of his introductory speech lambasting environmental activists and scientists, including James Hansen, who recently was arrested in West Virginia for protesting mountaintop removal mining.
First witness: John "Randy" Pomponio, Director of Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division of the U.S. EPA. He noted that "EPA plans to more fully use its full authority under the clean Water Act," to minimize the impacts of mountaintop removal mining on waters in Appalachia. His written testimony quotes a paper called, "Where Rivers are Born," noting that careful protection of headwater streams is crucial to keeping water clean downstream. Also of note: mining operations rob downstream communities of clean water and important natural resources…an important admission that in order to keep waters clean, it’s probably not wise to completely bury them with the rock, rubble and waste that results from mountaintop removal.
Sen. Cardin is questioning Mr. Pomponio, and I’ll continue to write updates as they come in. Stay tuned for the second panel of witnesses that include noted water expert Dr. Margaret Palmer and our client and coalfield activist, Maria Gunnoe.