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Mountaintop Mining Fight Heads to Washington

by Fred Pace

About 140 Appalachian residents traveled to Washington this week to urge Congress to pass the Clean Water Protection Act.

Patrick Dunn of Berea was one of hundreds at a rally in February against mountaintop removal mining. (Courier-Journal) "We want them to restore the Clean Water Act to its original intent and protect it from the president being able to make changes, like the George W. Bush administration did," said Bo Webb, a Naoma resident who met with Obama administration officials and members of Congress Monday and Tuesday.

Environmental groups and coalfield residents say mountaintop mining is dangerous for those living near it and is harmful to the environment.

"We want them to eliminate valley fills and block new mountaintop removal mining permits," Webb said.

Webb says more than 100 permits are pending at the Army Corps of Engineers office in Huntington that would bury more than 200 miles of streams in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

"Coalfield residents are telling Congress and the Obama administration how this type of mining is affecting their lives on a daily basis," said Lorelei Scarbro, a Rock Creek resident living in the shadow of Coal River Mountain.

There are currently four strip mining permits out for Coal River Mountain that will level 6,600 acres and lead to the construction of 18 valley fills, according to Scarbro.

"We have asked them to give particular attention and consideration to Coal River Mountain and the sludge impoundment and coal silo that is dangerously close to Marsh Fork Elementary School," Webb added.

Massey Energy was granted a five-year permit for a silo, now up for renewal, located close to the school.

The lobbying activities take place each year, but the environmental groups and coalfield residents say now is the time to make a push for change.

"We got a different feel on Capitol Hill this time," Scarbro said. "With a different administration, we see the possibility for change now."

All of this comes a month after a federal appeals court struck down the latest in a series of court rulings aimed at tougher oversight of mountaintop removal permitting by the Corps of Engineers.

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