Dear Mr. President: Declare August 3rd as Armistice Day in the Appalachian Coalfields

On the upcoming anniversary of
the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, President Barack Obama
has the opportunity to declare an armistice in the polarized
Appalachian coalfields, mend a 30-year mining policy of betrayal, and
call an end to the most divisive and egregious human rights and
environmental violation sanctioned by our federal government.

On August 3rd, the President should keep his campaign promise,
travel to Appalachia and publicly announce a timeline on when his
administration plans to formally end mountaintop removal operations.

While dramatic moves by the EPA to scrutinize and suspend select
mountaintop removal operations in southwestern Virginia and West
Virginia are laudable and deeply appreciated by those who have endured
the helter-skelter of unchecked strip-mining operations for decades,
and while the deliberate move by the Department of Interior to rescind
the Bush's administration's mishandling of the 1983 stream buffer zone
rule is admirable, one indubitable fact remains: Mountaintop removal is
an immoral crime against nature and our citizenry, and it must be
abolished, not regulated.

A publicly proposed "roadmap to withdrawal" and an announced
"timeline for transition from mountaintop removal coal to underground
coal or alternative clean energy sources" would send a clear signal
that the Obama administration will not tolerate human rights abuses on
American soil.

August 3rd is not simply the anniversary of a benign Act; it is a
sobering cautionary tale for today's Obama administration and young
environmentalists of the catastrophic effects of well-meaning liberal
Democrats who engage in compromises with an untenable and ruthless coal

On August 3rd, 1977, surrounded in the White House Rose Garden by
beleaguered coalfield residents and environmentalists who had waged a
ten-year campaign to abolish strip-mining, President Jimmy Carter
signed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act with great
fanfare. President Carter may have attempted to put on a good face, but
he admitted to the 300 guests, according to the New York Times, "in
many ways, this has been a disappointing effort." Calling it a "watered
down" bill, Carter added, "I'm not completely satisfied with the
legislation. I would prefer to have a stricter strip mining bill."

"The President's other main objection to the bill," wrote the New
York Times, "is that it allows the mining companies to cut off the tops
of Appalachian mountains to reach entire seams of coal."

Outraged by this duplicitous compromise to grant federal sanctioning
of mountaintop removal mining, an "Appalachian Coalition" of coalfield
residents and environmental groups called the SMCRA a "blatant

Three decades later, the Appalachian Coalition's and President
Carter's worst fears have been realized. Over 500 extraordinary
mountains--all of which would have easily been recognized as national
monuments in other states--have literally been blown to bits; an
estimated 1.2 million acres of hardwood forests have been subjected to
a torched earth policy reserved for warfare; over 1,300 miles of
headwater streams have been jammed or filled with mining waste.

And the peace and prosperity of some of our nation's most historic
communities have been shattered, locked out from any diversified
economy, and forced to bear the burden of a failed mining policy.

"When Congress passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act
in 1977," testified Joe Lovett, the Executive Director of the
Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, at an Oversight
Hearing of the US House Committee on Natural Resource on the 30th
anniversary of the SMCRA, "it thought that it was enacting a law to
protect the environment and citizens of the region. OSM has used, and
has allowed the states to use, the Act as a perverse tool to justify
the very harm that Congress sought to prevent. The Members of Congress
who voted to pass the Act in 1977 could not have imagined the
cumulative destruction that would be visited on our region by the
complete failure of the regulators to enforce the Act."

All well-meaning intentions aside, this is what is going to happen on
August 3rd under our current policy: An estimated 540 million pounds of
ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosives will have ripped across and
devastated our nation's oldest and most diverse mountains since
President Obama took office in January.

With military-like precision at 4pm on that day, Vietnam veteran Bo
Webb's ancestral family cemetery and vegetable garden in Clay's Branch
in West Virginia, for example, will be blanketed with silica dust and
heavy metals from strip-mining blasts, while other gallbladder
disease-stricken American citizens in neighboring coalfield areas will
lug bottled water into their contaminated kitchens and bathrooms. Down
the valley, teachers at the Marsh Fork Elementary School will be
readying to return to work, as nearby mountaintop removal explosives
send shocks through the earthen walls of a high ridge pond that holds
back 2.8 billion gallons of toxic coal sludge a few football fields
above their heads.

On that same historic day in August, untold tons of coal stripped
from mountaintop removal mines in these areas of central Appalachia
will have been mined, processed, shipped and used in the Potomac River
coal-fired plant to generate the electricity for the White House's
first 180 days.

In effect, by August 3rd, the White House will have decided Appalachia's fate.

That is why it is imperative that President Obama makes a public
stand on this scandal, while his outstanding and dedicated
administrators at the EPA, Department of Interior and Council on
Environmental Quality continue their measured actions to enforce the
weak laws and regulations.

By standing at the site of a mountaintop removal amphitheatre of
destruction, declaring "Armistice Day" in the coalfields, and
announcing an Appalachian Revitalization Program for green jobs and
renewable energy manufacturing plants, a massive Appalachian
Reforestation and Heavy Machinery Jobs Program, and a veritable fund
dedicated to the national service and health and pension plans of the
United Mine Workers, President Obama will truly bring peace and justice
to our nation's coalfields.

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