Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Chris Shays (R-CT) today introduced a bill to restore a 25-year-old prohibition under the Clean Water Act that prevented mining companies and other industries from dumping masses of solid industrial wastes into the nation’s waters.
The Clean Water Protection Act overturns a 2002 rule change by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that allows coal mining companies to create enormous valley fills, burying thousands of miles of streams, to make the practice of mountaintop removal mining cheaper. That rule change also allows other industries to dump waste in waters under the guise of renaming the waste material as “fill.”
Already, more than 60 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives have co-sponsored the bill.
“I’m proud to have reintroduced this bill, which protects streams and watersheds and addresses a serious environmental justice concern,” Representative Frank Pallone said. “The federal government should protect the environment and the people living around mountaintop mining operations, not give massive mining companies a free pass to dump fill into waterways.”
“It is my hope this legislation signals to the EPA that Congress will not sit silently by as our environment is destroyed,” says Representative Chris Shays. “We cannot afford to waste another day, another hour, another minute if we want our children and our children’s children to enjoy clean water. We simply won’t have a world to live in if we continue our neglectful ways.”
More than 1,200 miles of streams already have been destroyed in Appalachia by the coal companies that have been flouting the Clean Water Act for years while the EPA and the Corps looked the other way. When citizens took state and federal agencies to court to ensure our environmental laws are enforced, coal companies sought — and were granted — a legal loophole from the Bush administration. In May 2002, the Army Corps of Engineers repealed the 25-year-old ban under their regulations against allowing waste to be treated as “fill” material that is allowed to be placed in waters.
“Nothing is more inconsistent with the goal of the Clean Water Act — which is intended to protect and preserve the health of our nation’s waters — than allowing mining companies and other industries to bury streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands under enormous piles of waste and debris. Yet, that is exactly what the Bush administration has allowed,” said Joan Mulhern, Senior Legislative Counsel for Earthjustice. “The Clean Water Protection Act would reverse this travesty and restore sense to our clean water laws. We commend Congressman Pallone and Congressman Shays for their strong defense of clean water, our most precious natural resource.”
“Burying Appalachia’s streams in mining waste is one of the most egregious forms of environmental destruction taking place in America,” said Ed Hopkins, Sierra Club’s Director of Environment Quality Program. “It is threatening communities, damaging drinking water supplies, causing flooding and ruining habitat for fish and wildlife. Congress should put a stop to it now.”
“Mountaintop removal buries streams, devastates communities and serves as a reminder that there is no such thing as ‘clean coal,'” said Sara Zdeb, Legislative Director at Friends of the Earth. “It is critical that Congress enact this much-needed legislation, particularly as it considers proposals that could expand coal production under the guise of combating global warming.”
The Clean Water Protection Act is supported by a large coalition of organizations that includes national groups such as Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, and Sierra Club, and regional leaders to stop mountaintop removal coal mining, such as the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC).