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Mountaintop Removal Mining Protests Going National

by Vicki Smith

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Activists with Mountain Justice, Rainforest Action Network and other groups planned protests at Environmental Protection Agency headquarters and across the country Friday to demand the end of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

Miranda Miller, facing camera, was one of seven environmental protestors that was arrested for trespassing in the Governor's Reception Room at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Monday, Oct. 19, 2009. The protestors sat down in the early afternoon vowing to not leave until Governor Joe Manchin agreed to change the state's mountaintop removal mining policy and were arrested for refusing to leave when the office closed at 5PM. (AP Photo/Bob Bird) An online map showed more than two dozen planned events from California to Maine, including demonstrations at a regional EPA office in Philadelphia and a New Jersey office of JPMorgan & Chase Co., a bank environmentalists say is the biggest financier of the destructive form of strip mining.

It was the third attempt at a national protest since June, and evidence the environmentalists believe the tide is turning in their favor under the Obama administration.

"The end of mountaintop removal is almost here," declares the Rainforest Action Network on its Web site. "Political and financial decision-makers in New York, Washington D.C. and across the country continue to hear our message."

Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, was out of the office Friday and did not immediately return a cell phone message.

Mountaintop removal is a form of strip mining that blasts apart ridge tops to expose multiple coal seams. Operators level off the peaks, then dump rock and debris into valleys, sometimes covering intermittent streams and changing the contour of the land.

Coal operators say it's often the most efficient and sometimes the only way to get to reserves, but many people who live near the mines say they suffer unacceptable damage to the environment and their homes.

West Virginians Bo Webb and Chuck Nelson were in Washington, D.C., with at least two dozen other protesters, hoping to deliver a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

"I do think it's turning in our direction. They're starting to look at scientific evidence showing what filling in the streams and valleys does to our headwaters, to the whole ecosystem," said Nelson, a disabled underground coal miner from Glen Daniel. "But we need to stress to the EPA that they need to make a decision soon because the longer this goes on, the more danger they're putting us in."

The EPA recently revoked a permit for what could have been West Virginia's largest mountaintop removal operation, citing "very serious concerns" about possible Clean Water Act violations. It was the first time since 1972 the agency had used its authority to review a previously permitted project.

Two weeks ago, unruly crowds took over what were intended to be public hearings in Kentucky and West Virginia on an Army Corps of Engineers proposal to suspend or end a streamlined permitting process for mountaintop removal mines. They shouted down and intimidated the few environmentalists who showed up to support individual reviews of operations.

"As long as there's that uncertainty, not knowing what's going to happen, it's going to keep causing tension in the communities and in the industry," Nelson said. "The threats are becoming more intense because they're uncertain what the future holds for them."

EPA administrators "need to make a quick decision about what is and what is not going to be allowed."

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