Yesterday afternoon, a coalition of Appalachian and national groups pressed the Environmental Protection Agency for stronger protection for their waters from the most extreme form of coal mining, mountaintop removal.
In a formal petition for rulemaking, 19 Appalachian local, regional, and national groups are petitioning the EPA to set a numeric water quality standard under the Clean Water Act to protect streams in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, and Pennsylvania from pollution caused by mountaintop removal mining. This petition is backed by robust scientific studies that demonstrate that the dumping of mountaintop removal mining waste leads to harmful levels of conductivity – the ability of a waterway to conduct an electric current. Elevated conductivity is toxic to aquatic life, and studies show it is having an extreme ecological effect on Appalachian waters and streams.
This petition comes during the eighth annual End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington, as citizens from all over Appalachia gather in the nation’s capital to demand protections for their communities and an end to mountaintop removal.
The following groups joined the petition: Earthjustice, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Coal River Mountain Watch, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Appalachian Voices, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Public Justice, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
The following are statements from petitioners:
Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez:
“For years, EPA stood by while states failed to protect water quality and local communities, and more and more mines dumped harmful waste into vital mountain streams. Now that EPA has finally recognized that science shows devastating harm occurs to waters when mountaintop removal mines dump their waste, the time has finally come for EPA to take the next natural step and set a strong federal standard to safeguard vital waterways, once and for all.”
Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, Inc. staff attorney Mary Cromer:
“Scientists have been telling us for years that conductivity is destroying our Appalachian streams. These streams are the lifeblood of our region and they are the headwaters for all of our rivers. It’s long overdue for EPA to step up and promulgate numeric standards sufficiently stringent to protect our communities and our water.”
Kentucky Waterways Alliance executive director Judy Petersen:
“We need federal action – now. While our state agency has refused to put limits on conductivity into mine permits, their own data clearly indicates just how desperate the situation is. According to the state of Kentucky as of 2010 only 6 percent of Appalachian rivers and streams fully support aquatic life, and that figure is smaller every time they report a new assessment. Furthermore, the state reports the top three causes (pollutants) affecting water quality for aquatic life use are sedimentation/siltation, total dissolved solids and specific conductance or conductivity, which are all related to surface mining operations. We can wait no longer while streams and the water that flows through our communities are destroyed and degraded.”
West Virginia Highlands Conservancy mining board chair Cindy Rank:
“The Clean Water Act requires EPA to uphold the quality and integrity of the waters of the nation. There is strong scientific evidence that biologic impairment of streams is often caused by pollutants for which there are currently no enforceable numeric standard. State politics and industry pressure have so far failed to end this pollution without such a standard and more and more streams and communities who rely on those waters are left vulnerable. We need EPA to act now.”
Coal River Mountain Watch executive director Vernon Haltom:
“Mountaintop removal pollutes the air, water, and land and thereby threatens the health of people living in its shadow. We need the EPA to protect our water with a strong conductivity standard because we cannot rely on the whims and lackadaisical approach taken by our ineffective state regulators.”
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition project coordinator Vivian Stockman:
“Our state government and the coal industry have ignored the fact that streams polluted by mountaintop removal operations don’t just imperil aquatic life and birds that eat fish. Studies show that human health is at risk, too. That’s why we need EPA to step in and set strong new rules.”
Appalachian Voices executive director Tom Cormons:
“So much of Appalachia’s heritage and future are connected to the streams that run from the mountains, through backyards and towns, and on to form major rivers. Mountaintop removal coal mining has devastating impacts on these waters and communities, and EPA has a duty to protect them through a science-based standard.”
Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) Committee for E3 (Energy, Ecology, and Environmental Justice) Chair Ann League:
“I believe that establishing a strong conductivity water quality standard is an important step that EPA must take to address the downstream effects of surface coal mining in Appalachia. It is imperative that EPA takes immediate steps to protect the communities of Appalachia from destructive extraction processes.”
Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign director Mary Anne Hitt:
“The EPA must act now to protect Appalachia’s people and their water. Elected officials in Appalachian states have demonstrated that their primary concern is doing the coal companies’ bidding, not serving the needs of their own constituents. Only EPA’s leadership can protect our water from coal mining pollution.”
Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Jon Devine:
“Scientists tell us that mountaintop removal coal mining pollutes streams and harms aquatic life, and EPA experts agree. Today, we’re demanding that EPA follow the science by taking action to protect Appalachian waterways and those that depend on them.”
Kentuckians For The Commonwealth member Rick Handshoe:
This conductivity guidance – based on scientific evidence – gives us the first sign that something may be wrong with our water. I’ve tested a creek where the water was crystal clear but the conductivity meter ran over 4000 microsiemens. That told me something was wrong, and after further testing was done we saw how bad it was – some of the other pollutant levels were 100 times the water standards. Everything in the stream is dead because Kentucky officials are not doing their jobs. We need federal action immediately if we are to have any hope that our streams will one day recover.”
Appalachian Mountain Advocates executive director Joe Lovett:
“The science backing conductivity as a reliable measure of harmful contamination of streams by mountaintop removal mining is clear, and if science was the only guide, there is no doubt numeric limits on conductivity would have been put into federal regulations years ago. Science, not politics, should be what guides the EPA. The EPA should, at long last, act to make these limits enforceable.”
Earthjustice ▪ Keeper of the Mountains Foundation ▪ West Virginia Highlands Conservancy ▪ Kentucky Waterways Alliance ▪
Coal River Mountain Watch ▪ Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition ▪ Appalachian Voices ▪
Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards ▪ Kentuckians For The Commonwealth ▪
Appalachian Mountain Advocates ▪ Public Justice ▪ Natural Resources Defense Council ▪
Tennessee Clean Water Network ▪ Defenders of Wildlife ▪ Sierra Club ▪
National Wildlife Federation ▪ West Virginia Rivers Coalition ▪
Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment ▪
Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, Inc.
Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law organization dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.