MTR: Destroyer of Mountains, Streams, Wildlife, and Communities

The Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining on Water Quality in Appalachia.

The following was submitted as prepared testimony to the The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works,
Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife on Thursday, June 25, 2009:

My name is Maria Gunnoe. I am 40 years old and I
am a life long resident of Boone
County in southern West Virginia. My
family history there goes back to the 1700's. I know the areas and
the people that are being impacted by mountaintop removal very well simply
because this is the homeland where generations of our ancestors before me have
raised their families and lived their lives. Most of these families have
depended on underground coal mining to make a living but we as a culture of
people have depended on these mountains to take care of our families. We
are gatherers, hunters, gardeners, fishermen, active and retired miners, loving
community members, we are stewards of this land and we are now organizers.
We are working to protect and preserve the communities, culture and people that
we love and hold dear to our hearts

Water Quality

There is a relatively new method of mining now happening
in the coal fields of Appalachia called
mountaintop removal coal mining. This method of mining is where the coal
companies use nearly 4 million pounds of blasting material a day (in WValone) to blast the coal out of the
mountains. Then everything other than the coal (including trees and topsoil) is used to
create valley fills in our headwater streams. The artificial streams
running off these sites are toxic with selenium.

The energy is temporary energy. You only burn coal
one time. The destruction of the land, air, communities and people is
permanent. There have been 500 mountains leveled for their coal and
energy in the name of homeland security. These 500 mountains were
surrounded by communities who depended on the mountain's resources and water for
their very existence. There have now been more than 2000 miles of streams
buried by valley fills. People depended on these streams as much as any
animals. The cumulative impact of the permits that are being allowed in
some incidents are further depopulating and destroying communities and
people. The regulatory agencies turn a blind eye to this pollution by
continuing to allow the companies to buy more time to come in compliance with
the existing laws. Without enforcement these laws are only words on

Local communities truly do not have a voice in the
process of these permits. The DEP will set up what is called an informal
conference to inform citizens of what the DEP and coal companies are planning to
do and to give community members a chance to comment. These comments are
recorded and we are told that they become a part of the permit record. In
these hearings the citizens often beg the regulatory agencies to not allow these
permits but commonly they approve every permit applied for. The people who
live in these communities do not want mountaintop removal mining.
Especially near their homes and communities simply because it is destroying
everything they and their families before them have worked for.

In the 8 years of the Bush Administration the laws and
courts were aligned to destroy any protection that we had for these beautiful
and unique places and their people. The clean water act lost its meaning
when the Bush Administration changed one word of this law - the definition of
fill material. Another important rule, --the buffer zone rule- that
protected our streams was done away with on the eve of Christmas
2008. With this rule change the Bush Administration opened us as
residents up to nothing but destruction.

There are health impacts too. A study by Dr
Michael Hendryx at West
Virginia University has proven that there is reason
to be concerned about the pollution that the people throughout the coalfields
are being exposed to. This study has not been taken seriously by our state
leaders or our state regulatory agencies as a matter of fact it has been
ignored. Portions of this study were based on the community of Twilight
near where I live. Twilight Surface Mines surrounds the small communities
of Lindytown and Twilight and the people who live there either put up with the
impacts or leave.

The blasting has been horrible and the community's
members concerns are not being heard. There is near 4 million pounds of
blasting material used each day in WV alone. At one point the department
of defense and Department of Environmental Protection allowed the coal company
to dispose of old munitions from war {called
tetryl its used as an igniter}
on the mine site behind my
home. It was too dangerous to use in war so they thought they would
dispose of it in our community over our people's

We have for many generations depended on the water from
these mountains. Now this water is being polluted forever. In the
case of Big Branch Creek where I live it is now polluted with toxic level of
selenium. This is also present in my well water. This was quietly
done by the coal company and the regulatory agency permitted it. The
entire aquifer of where I live is now pollution spill way. The loss of
timber from our hollow alone will be felt for thousands of years to come.
There is no way that the reclaimed land can grow the hardwood forest that the
natural land does. This land is dead. It's impossible to grow a
healthy forest on dead polluted land. Reclamation is a pretty word but on
the ground it has been proven to be impossible.


My family before me settled these mountains through the
forced removal of the Cherokee known as the trail of tears and most of my
neighbors have a similar story. My grand father told me the story his
mother told him of the men in the family dressing as women to allow the women
and children to escape this forced removal. The women and children then
followed the rivers to their headwaters and settled the area where I now
live. Throughout the past 250 years our families have built these places
through determination and love for the place itself. The mountains here
sustained our families by supplying us with an abundance of food and fresh clean
water in our wells, springs and streams. Southern West Virginians are fortunate enough to live in the second
most bio-diverse region on this planet. This is richness beyond
wealth. As residents we recognize our most valuable resources as being our
land, water and people not the coal that lies beneath it all. Our people
were here before the coal was discovered. Why should we have to
leave now in the name of coal?

Some of our current resident's ancestors were awarded
their land for military service to this country. Now this very land being
destroyed and the residents don't have the rights to protect it.
Appalachians are the history of this
country. We have given all to build the infrastructure that supports this
American dream that we all share. We help to supply 48% of this country's
energy and the cost of this is never truly calculated. I have heard coal
referred to as a cheap and clean energy. This ignores the facts. The facts
are that the true cost of coal fired energy has never been calculated. We
must consider the cost of coal from the cradle to the grave. We must
consider the cost of mountaintop removal coal mining not only the aquatic life
and the wildlife where this coal is being extracted but on the human lives of
everywhere it touches.

I have to ask what about the homeland security of the
folks that are being forced to sell out to the coal companies in Lindytown W.V?
The people who proudly built this community are being told that they are in the
way of coal production and that they must leave their homes of many
generations. The coal company engineers strategically buy out homes and
family heir owned land to depopulate communities by making life
unbearable. Their air land and water are being destroyed by mountaintop
removal there is no way people can continue to live here and be healthy.
They are being forced to leave home places of many generations to save their
lives. This alone is personally and emotionally devastating. The
boom of "Big Bertha" -- a dragline -- swings over the community of
Lindytown. Blasting is frequent and terrifying for residents that are
holding out not wanting to sell.

This same "clean coal" that forced an elder woman out of
her home who happened to die of a heart attack while she packed her belongings
for the first time in 72 years. She too was in the way of production. The
people in Lindytown were only free to leave. Why is it as homeland
security increases here in DC ours only gets less and less likely to even exist?

In our mountains we have many mountain cemeteries that
date back to the beginning of civilization here. We are grounded like our
ancestors before us. These cemeteries are awarded no protection by our
regulatory agencies or law enforcement. We as citizens are expected to
register and account for these cemeteries in order to protect them from mining
activity and most of the time the coal companies won't allow us into our family
cemeteries to do this work. They stop us from visiting our dead by locking
us out of our ancestral land in these mountains. I know of many grave
yards that were in our mountains that no longer exist. The areas where
they were are now gone.

The people here belong no where but here. These
folks will thrive in their own environment but taken away from here they will
perish as they are not where they belong. The culture of people in
West Virginia
is a culture of survivalist not environmentalist. We have survived here
throughout times of extreme poverty during the rise and fall of the coal
markets. We have always had the land to sustain our lives. Now the
very reason for our existence as a culture of mountain people is being
annihilated for its coal.


Boone County falls second in poverty only to McDowell County, WV another leading coal producing county. This
is still the most impoverished area in the US
today. If mountaintop removal was about jobs and prosperity where is
it? In the 1960's we had 125,000 direct coal mining jobs in the coal
industry in WV, but now we have less than 12,000. Ask yourselves is this
really about jobs or profit and exploitation? These jobs are temporary
jobs at best. The operation behind my home started in 2000. It is now
closed down. These good paying jobs only lasted long enough for the
employees to get in debt.

I have watched as coal companies have destroyed one of
the most beautiful places in this country by mountaintop removal coal
mining. The people who live in these areas are often retired or active
UMWA underground miners and their families. The people who work in
mountaintop removal most often do not live in the environment that their jobs
create. The companies are out of state coal companies and the workers are
out of area workers. The companies commonly do not hire local

The coal companies will tell all that will listen that
they are doing this for future economic development of an impoverished
region. They will say that we don't have any flat land for
development. They will tell you that we need this flat land and that our
mountains are useless land in their natural state. I have even heard them
say that the mountains are in the way of development. There will be no future
here for anyone with mountaintop removal. I cannot believe that we
as a nation are depending on continuing to blow up mountains to supply energy in
this country when the energy we need in this country rises with the sun everyday
and blows in each churn of the wind. The ridges of southern WV are wind
viable ridges until they are blown up. We cannot continue to allow this to
be called clean coal.

Stop Mountaintop

In my own mind I know that mountaintop removal coal
mining will stop. According to USGS we are running out of mineable coal
and we are quickly running out of mountains in Southern, WV. Global
warming is very real. We are all just pawns on this chess board called
earth. I hope that we can stop mountaintop removal and coals global attack
soon enough to preserve some of what is left of one of the most beautiful and
ecologically diverse places in this country. The rolling hills of
Appalachia are becoming the flat plateaus of
the West as I speak.

We have the opportunity to stop the annihilation of
mountains and people by mountaintop removal and to change the history of energy
in this country. We are at a cross roads. We must put all special interest
aside and follow what we know to be best for all of our future
generations. Stop the attack on Appalachia's water supply and the people it sustains.

Thank you again to Senator Cardin and Senator Alexander
for standing up for what any fellow human knows to be the right

I would like to extend my tremendous appreciation to
Senator Cardin and Senator Alexander for introducing Senate Bill 696 the
Appalachian Restoration Act. This Bill if passed could turn back some of
the Bush administration changes that is currently allowing coal companies to
destroy valuable headwater streams and all that is connected to them. The
residents I work with in the Boone County coal fields send their support for
this bill as it is in some cases the only hope we have of remaining in our
ancestral homes and in our ancestral homelands.

I leave you with photos and a recent article about
flooding in the coalfields caused by run off from flattened

This is what inspired me to get involved in stopping
mountaintop removal. There are other organizers just like me being created
everyday by this industry. We have no choice but to oppose the
practice of filling headwater streams, we live here!

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