WASHINGTON- In an attempt to further pressure EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to enforce the Clean Water Act and halt mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR), activists early this morning erected two 20-foot-tall, purple tripod structures in front of the agency's headquarters. A pair of activists perched at the top of the tripods have strung a 25-foot sign in front of the EPA's door that reads, "EPA: pledge to end mountaintop removal in 2010." Six people are locked to the tripods and say they won't leave unless Administrator Jackson commits to a flyover visit of the Appalachian Mountains and MTR sites, which she has never done before.
This is the latest in a series of actions and activities aimed at pressuring the EPA to take more decisive action on mountaintop removal coal mining. Today's tactic is modeled on the multi-day tree-sits that have been happening in West Virginia to protect mountains from coal companies' imminent blasting. Called the worst of the worst strip mining, the practice blows the tops off of whole mountains to scoop out the small seams of coal that lie beneath.
"We're losing our way of life and our culture," said Chuck Nelson, who worked as a coal miner in West Virginia for three decades and came to DC to support today's protest. "Mountaintop removal should be banned today. The practice means total devastation for communities, the hardwood forests, the ecosystems, and the headwaters. Why should our communities sacrifice everything we have?"
Despite the Obama administration's big announcement last year that it was going to take "unprecedented steps" to reduce the environmental damage from mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, the EPA has been slow moving. Two weeks ago, the EPA delayed action on a set of broad-ranging and specific measures to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal, after details of the plan were leaked to coal-state mining regulators. The EPA has for months been close to finalizing these permit guidelines, which many hope will mandate tougher protections to limit damage to water quality and be a step in the right direction toward abolishing the practice.
The delay in EPA's announcement of more detailed permit guidelines came just as the agency also asked U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers for more time to decide if it will veto the largest mountaintop removal mining permit in West Virginia history, the nearly 2,300-acre Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County.
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"The science has become clear that mountaintop removal is harming water resources in real and measurable ways," said Kate Rooth of the Rainforest Action Network, which organized the protest. "The EPA definitely can and must do much more on mountaintop mining and that includes exercising its full regulatory authority to block every single mining permit application that seeks to remove America's oldest mountaintops and dump the waste into waterways."
Based on EPA Administrator Jackson's statements on March 8th at the National Press Club, it appears that the EPA is seeking ways to "minimize" the ecological damage of mountaintop mining rather than halt the most extreme strip mining practice. A paper released in January by a dozen leading scientists in the journal Science, however, concluded that mountaintop coal mining is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits all together. "The science is so overwhelming that the only conclusion that one can reach is that mountaintop mining needs to be stopped," said Margaret Palmer, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and the study's lead author.
"Ultimately, what is clear is that mountaintop removal cannot be regulated. It must be abolished. Otherwise, we will continue to jeopardize our historic mountains, precious drinking water and especially the lives of the people who call Appalachia home. All of this for a tiny percent of dirty coal, the tradeoff doesn't add up," said Kate Finneran, one of the two main climbers in today's protest.
Called the worst of the worst coal mining, mountaintop removal coal mining results in the clear-cutting of thousands of acres of some of the world's most biologically diverse forests, the burying of crucial headwaters streams and the contamination of groundwater with toxic levels of heavy lead and mercury. According to the EPA, this destructive practice has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of forest by 2020.