Urgent Letter to EPA and Interior Secretary

Liberate Coalfields and Take Primacy

three million pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosives continue
to rip through the lush green Appalachian mountains and historic
mountain communities every day, coalfield residents from West Virginia
have issued an extraordinary letter today to EPA administrator Lisa
Jackson and Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to assert
primacy over the negligent West Virginia Department of Environmental

Living in the ruins of 500 destroyed mountains, over 1,300 miles of
sullied streams, and shattered lives and communities, the coalfield
residents plead: "Ms. Jackson and Mr. Salazar, you are our last hope
for justice at this point."

Here's the entire letter. Let's hope its sense of urgency is felt in Washington, DC.

May 4, 2009

Environmental Protection Agency

Attn: Lisa Jackson
Ariel Rios Building

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20460

Department of the Interior
Attn: Ken Salazar

1849 C. St. NW

Washington, DC 20240

Dear Ms. Jackson and Mr. Salazar:

We are grassroots groups and citizens that have a stake in the areas
of West Virginia that are being destroyed by steep slope strip
mining/mountaintop removal and other forms of irresponsible mining.

Some of us live and work in the affected area. Ms. Jackson and Mr.
Salazar, you are our last hope for justice at this point. The West
Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is not doing its job in
protecting the environment here in West Virginia, and as a result the
people are suffering from Environmental Injustice. We are asking that
the EPA and/or OSMRE take primacy from the WV DEP to protect us, the
people of West Virginia.

Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful
involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin,
or income with respect to the development, implementation, and
enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has
this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will
be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from
environmental and health hazards and equal access to the
decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live,
learn, and work.

Fair treatment means that no group of people should bear a
disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences
resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or

Below are just some examples of the WVDEP's lax enforcement, most recently under Randy Huffman and Governor Joe Manchin.

Recently, in response to announced EPA reviews of permits, WV DEP
Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman said, "Mainly what we're concerned
about as regulators is the ability to develop land after mining.You
need valley fills if you're going to have a viable post mining economy.
You need flat land. And in order to have flat land you need to have
valley fills, and one of our biggest concerns is that EPA is wanting to
reduce the size and number of valley fills in Appalachia."

Since when is DEP's primary concern the ability to develop land
after mining? We thought DEP's job was to protect the environment. What
good is developable land if the entire watershed was destroyed during
the mining process? During the mining process residents are suffering
from the blasting, and the air and water pollution.

Mountaintop removal is out of control because for years DEP did not
do its job, by failing to enforce the approximate original contour
reclamation standard and post-mining land development rules already on
the books.

If DEP was doing its job, why did it take the EPA and the Justice
Department to come in and fine Massey Energy $20 million for thousands
of water pollution violations across southern West Virginia coalfields?

The DEP simply allowed "discharge monitoring reports" that the coal
companies filed to accumulate, never bothering to check and see if
Massey and other companies were complying with their pollution permit
limits. We the citizens suffer. How many more examples are hidden at

WV DEP has repeatedly missed legislative deadlines to complete a
study on whether coal slurry that is injected underground is polluting
water supplies and making people sick. Clean water is a human rights
issue, and people living near mining communities are sick and dying
from toxic water.

It is a fact that it took a federal court order for DEP to even
consider beginning to write permits and comply with water pollution
limits at the abandoned mine sites it controls under its Special
Reclamation Program. DEP also proposed legislation this year that does
not go nearly as far as its own advisory panel said was needed to fix
finances of the Special Reclamation Program.

The Federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement
found serious problems with the way DEP polices coal-slurry
impoundments, which is one of the agency's most important jobs.

The citizens have repeatedly asked WV DEP to fill the 90 plus open
positions at WV DEP. How can any agency do a good job without proper

Mr. Huffman's job is not to run interference for the coal industry.
It is to protect the environment. As a people who must depend upon the
DEP, we are very concerned.

At a recent DEP/citizens conference a DEP inspector was asked by a
citizen to view, on foot, a permitted surface mine site that was
obviously breaking the law. This citizen was told by the inspector
(witnesses present) that his knees were bad and that he was not about
to walk below a blast area anyway. A week later the citizen contacted
the federal Office of Surface Mining. They then walked up the mountain,
on foot, as requested, and their inspection resulted in four violations
against the coal company.

The fact is that for years, WV government has enabled and protected
coal operators and created the very circumstances that are now forcing
the EPA to act. If WV had adequate regulators, an adequate regulatory
structure, and leadership committed to environmental protection, the
EPA's involvement would not be necessary. If you need more information
regarding the WV DEP's failure to regulate, please contact us and we
can provide you with further details.

However, we need the EPA and Dept. of Interior to restore
environmental protection in West Virginia. The DEP has repeatedly
placed industry profits ahead of environmental protection,
Environmental Justice, and citizens' health and safety. The urgent
situation requires urgent remediation, which will only come with swift
federal action to take primacy from a failed agency.


Vernon Haltom, Co-Director, Coal River Mountain Watch

Janet Keating, Executive Director, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

For a closer look at the daily agony in Appalachia, here's a clip
from recent Goldman Prize winner Maria Gunnoe, a community organizer
with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition:

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