ROANOKE, W.VA. -- December 17 -- Prominent regional environmental groups were not among those signing onto a reforestation initiative for strip-mined lands promoted by the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). The groups, while applauding the idea of making every attempt to re-forest already mined lands, are reiterating a call for a moratorium on any new mountaintop removal mining projects.|
State and federal regulators and coal industry representatives will gathered Wednesday ( Dec. 15) at the Stonewall Jackson resort to publicly sign a Statement of Mutual Intent for the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative. Those signing document pledged to promote the planting of high-value hardwood trees on reclaimed coal mines, OSMRE said in a media advisory.
One federal agency involved in regulating strip mines, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, apparently declined signing onto the document.
The OSMRE media advisory also noted that environmental organizations would sign on to the initiative. However, none of the members of the Friends of the Mountains (FOM), a coalition of citizen and environmental groups calling for an end to mountaintop removal coal mining, will sign on. Most major regional environmental groups, including Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW), Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, and Save Our Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee had not even heard about the initiative until OSMRE circulated the media advisory and the statement of intent.
In mid-November, OSMRE had contacted the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) asking them to sign the documents at tomorrows ceremony. Both groups declined.
Julia Bonds, the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize winner for North America and CRMWs community outreach director, said We certainly agree that coal companies must make every attempt to restore our native forests to strip-mined lands. But we need more details about this project. If this initiative is just another justification for mountaintop removal, a completely unnecessary and hugely damaging coal-mining process that must be banned now, then we cant support it. Why didnt OSM tell us about this sooner? Is it because this initiative cant stand up to scrutiny?
OSM and its cohorts appear to be trying to justify more mountaintop removal mining, said OVEC co-director Janet Fout. We certainly want the industry and regulators to do everything possible to get native hardwoods growing on already destroyed lands, but we want a moratorium on any new mountaintop removal activity until the industry proves it can restore mined lands, as well as our precious headwater streams.
And, lets be honest, Fout added. The best the industry can do, if it actually spends the vast sums that will be required to fulfill this pledge, is to plant tree farms. Shallow-rooted pines will likely grow, but what are the long-term prospects for hardwoods? Reforestation isnt going to happen on strip-mined lands. Our woods are the most biologically diverse temperate forests on earth. Kanawha State Forest alone has over 1,000 species of plants--from lichens, mosses and ferns to wildflowers, herbs, shrubs and trees.
The way the statement is written, it sounds like mountain range removal is fine, as long as the coal companies try to plant some trees, said Vernon Haltom, a CRMW volunteer from Beaver, W. Va. Planting one extra tree would satisfy the wording of the statement without meaningful results.
This statement does admit, however, that forests are vitally important for soil and water conservation, water quality, hydrologic balance and carbon sequestration, Haltom added. Perhaps the coal industry will finally admit that forested mountaintops arent worthless, after all.
Mountaintop-removal-mined coal likely constitutes only 3 to 6 percent of all the coal burned for electricity in the United States. Americans could save 20 -30 percent of their energy usage by adopting currently available conservation and energy efficiency measures. Mountaintop removal has been described as strip mining on steroids because, in order to get to thin seams of coal, companies detonate millions of tons of explosives to blast away up to 800 feet of densely forested mountaintop. The resulting rubble is pushed into the valleys below, burying biologically-crucial headwaters streams under hundreds of millions of tons of former mountaintop.