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Where's the Love? Will Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley Ever Visit a Mountaintop Removal Site?

I think at the Obama administration we all believe that everybody has the right to live in a clean, healthy environment and a prosperous economy. And we're working towards that. We need to reach out to communities whose voices have been ignored and where there are disproportional impacts, whether it's environmental protection or promoting [a] clean energy economy. --Nancy Sutley interview, July 31, 2009

Question of the week: Given all of their agencies' beautiful rhethoric about "reaching out to communities whose voices have been ignored and where there are disproportional impacts," why haven't EPA chief Lisa Jackson and CEQ administrator Nancy Sutley found three hours in the schedules to visit a mountaintop removal site--the most egregious environmental tragedy in their administration?

Will they ever visit Coal River Mountain in West Virginia--the mountaintop removal battleground for clean energy and a healthy environment?

On June 11, in responding to the national outcry over the tragedy of mountaintop removal mining, the Obama administration promised it would, "engage the public through outreach events in the Appalachian region to help inform the development of Federal policy."

And the EPA, the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of Interior jointly announced their intent to "work in coordination with appropriate regional, state, and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the health and welfare of Appalachian communities."

Five months later, where is the Obama administration and its promises to visit the besieged coalfields of Appalachia?

EPA chief Lisa Jackson flew 1,687 miles to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado this week to speak to a high school in Denver, but she--or any top level of her staff--has yet to visit a nearby mountaintop removal mine in Appalachia. (In May, Jackson flew 2,001 miles to visit the less controversial Black Thunder Coal Mine in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.)

In the meantime: An estimated 1.6 billion pounds of ammonium nitrate fuel explosives have ripped across the lush Appalachia mountains, as part of mountaintop removal operations, since the Obama administration took power in January.

1.6 billion pounds of explosives.

Since Jackson began her career with the EPA in the mid-1980s, over 500 mountains have been blown up, 1.2 million acres of hardwood forests have been clear cut, an estimated 2,000 miles of waterways have been jammed with mining waste, and untold numbers of American citizens have been forced to relocate, through mountaintop removal operations.

Horrific violations of the Clean Water Act have reached a state of emergency in the coalfields--and the front page of the New York Times.

And while affected Appalachian coalfield residents have made numerous visits to Washington, DC to plead for environmental justice and their lives in a virtual war zone, and while over 20,000 petitions were hand delivered to the EPA headquarters last month calling for a SINGLE visit to the region, there is still no word, no announcement, no plans for a visit by Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley.

Where's the love?

Nancy Sutley believes environmental justice is a civil rights issue, and she traveled over a 1,000 miles to New Orleans last month, to assure American citizens concerned about coastal restoration and levee safety issues that: "We've heard before and we've heard here again today the need for urgency and we certainly understand the need for urgency."

But Nancy Sutley--or any top level of her staff--has never visited a mountaintop removal site in Appalachia where American citizens are literally dying from coal slurry-contaminated drinking water, and have been forced out of their homes from reckless blasting, fly rock, and coal dust.

While the EPA made an important step to actually apply the law with greater scrutiny of mountaintop removal permits in September, only one federal agency has made any attempt to keep the Obama administration's promise to reach out to Appalachia, in Appalachia: The Army Corps of Engineers, and they held quite possibly the most disorganized, chaotic and violation-ridden hearing in West Virginia in the recent history of the coalfields; residents are still calling for an investigation by the Department of Justice.

And where are those green jobs "to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy"?

While small efforts have been made for some reforestation projects, the coal barons and the pitiful WV politicians all know that mountaintop removal has plundered the Appalachian economy, beleaguered the region in eternal costs, and wiped out any diversified economic development and even stopped a tiny tiny initiative for green jobs in West Virginia from passing through the state legislature.

Faced with a declining domestic and world coal demand, the out-of-state global warming-denying union-busting coal barons (CEOs from Virginia, Texas and St. Louis) held a bizarre seance with faltering West Virginia politicians last week and whipped them into an unfounded frenzy about job losses from environmental regulations.

And that is why mountaintop removal blasting began last month on historic Coal River Mountain, less than a football field away from a dangerous and weak coal slurry impoundment--to wipe out any attempt at clean energy and a healthy environment. The out-of-state coal barons want to stop the Coal River Wind Project, which would provide more jobs, more energy, more tax revenues and a healthy environment for the coalfield residents.

Will Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley ever find three hours in their schedules to see mountaintop removal first hand and visit Coal River Mountain?

Do they truly believe, as Sutley declared this summer:"...everybody has the right to live in a clean, healthy environment and a prosperous economy. And we're working towards that. We need to reach out to communities whose voices have been ignored and where there are disproportional impacts, whether it's environmental protection or promoting [a] clean energy economy"?

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