Who Will Save the Mountains?

Obama Says Mountain Crimes Can Be Regulated--Will Gore, Carter or Congress Intervene Now?

"Mountaintop removal is a crime--and ought to be treated as a crime." --Al Gore, April 28, 2008

"Mountaintop removal is a crime against local people, nature, our children, and our planet." --Dr. James Hansen, NASA

The Washington Post headline this morning cut to this chase: "Obama is Right to Allow Mountaintop Removal Mining."

Only two days after the US Supreme Court reprimanded the West
Virginia Supreme Court for making conflict of interest decisions from
its Big Coal-financed justices, and one day after the WV Supreme Court
upheld a decision to build a toxic coal silo on the playground of an
elementary school, which sits under a 2.8 billion gallon toxic coal
sludge pond that is being jeopardized by mountaintop removal blasting,
the Obama administration has decided to "regulate" the crime of
mountaintop removal.

In an extraordinary move to disregard a 38-year rap sheet of crimes
of pollution, harassment and forced removal of some of our nation's
oldest and most historic communities, and the destruction of over 500
mountains and 1.2 million acres of deciduous hardwood forests in our
nation's carbon sink of Appalachia, the Obama administration will
announce today that it has decided to "regulate" mountaintop removal
mining operations, not abolish them.

All well-meaning intentions aside, if the Obama administration truly
wanted to "enforce" mountaintop removal regulations and protect
American watersheds, drinking water, and communities from catastrophic
flooding and toxic blasting, it would simply reverse a 2002 Bush and
dirty coal lobby manipulation of the Clean Water Act and restore the
original definition of "fill" material to no longer include mining

A growing number of Congress members understands this--and even
conservatives like Sen. Lamar Alexander are now shepherding the Clean
Water Protection Act. (See:

Consider this: In West Virginia, no less, the state Department of
Environmental Protection is so widely denounced and inept that an
alliance of citizens groups has recently called for the federal
government to declare a state of emergency and take primacy over
certain mining regulation issues.

Consider this: Over 3.5 million pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil
explosives rip across the most diverse and oldest mountains in
America--and rain down silica dust and heavy metals on residents--in
West Virginia alone EVERY DAY.

Consider this: Mountaintop removal provides less than 5-7% percent
of our national coal production, at a time when coal demand is down,
and mountaintop removal coal could EASILY be replaced by energy
efficiency, conservation, renewable energy sources or underground coal.

Consider this: Not one person in the Obama administration involved
in this outrageous decision has ever set a foot on a mountaintop
removal site.

Consider this: If mountaintop removal is a crime, as former Vice
President Al Gore has stated, then President Barack Obama and his EPA,
CEQ and Department of Interior administrators are co-conspirators in
this crime: When President Barack Obama's staff turns on the lights to
the Oval Office this morning, a signal will be sent from the Potomac
Energy Company to the Chalk Point Generation Station, where the coal
handling facility service of the power plant will shovel in coal
strip-mined from mountains of West Virginia that have been clear cut,
detonated with tons of explosives, and toppled into the valleys.

Today is a tragic day in Appalachia, because it affirms the reality
that coalfield residents have been asked to sacrifice their lives and
livelihoods for a "regulatory" mistake.

Just ask former President Jimmy Carter--who desperately needs to become involved in the coalfields now.

In the spring of 1977, President Carter addressed the American
people in a televised speech on his proposed energy policy. Carter
pulled no punches. He declared: "We must look back in history to
understand our energy problem."

Let's look back on the history of mountaintop removal.

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 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."

Three decades later, 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.

This failed mining policy has not only destroyed our nation's
natural heritage; mountaintop removal has ripped out the roots of the
Appalachian culture, and depopulated and left historic mountain
communities in poverty and ruin.

"I am not here as a public official, but as a citizen of a troubled
world who finds hope in a growing consensus that the generally accepted
goals of society are peace, freedom, human rights, environmental
quality, the alleviation of suffering, and the rule of law," Carter
said in his 2002 Nobel Peace Prize lecture.

In the name of peace, human rights, environmental quality, the
alleviation of suffering, and the rule of law, will Jimmy Carter speak
now against this crime of mountaintop removal?

Will Al Gore speak now against this crime of mountaintop removal?

"Today's announcement by the Obama administration paves the way for
the criminals that conduct mountaintop removal to continue their
bombing assault and hillbilly removal campaign against the people of
the Coal River Valley and Appalachian mountain communities," says Bo
Webb, a Vietnam Vet, coal miner's son, and resident in Coal River
Valley, West Virginia.

For the Obama administrators too busy to visit the coalfields, here's a clip of the reality of their decisions:

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.