Lisa Jackson's Fundamental Misunderstanding About Mountaintop Removal and Protests

Over 27 hours later, nonviolent protesters spent the night twenty
feet in the air, atop mountain tripods, in a sleep-in at the EPA
headquarters in Washington, DC. Determined to convince EPA chief Lisa
Jackson to make her first trip to the Appalachian coalfields, the
protesters have vowed to keep up their creative action until the EPA
effectively moves to halt Clean Water Act-violating mountaintop removal
mining permits.

Photos of the action in DC can be seen here.

Risking arrest today and through the night, creative protesters from
the besieged Appalachian coalfield regions and their supporters from
across the country, have set up and locked themselves to two 20-foot
purple mountains majesties in front of Lisa Jackson's office at the EPA
headquarters in Washington, DC, to call attention to her agency's
mandate to enforce the Clean Water Act and halt the dumping of toxic
mountaintop removal coal waste in our nation's waterways.

And Lisa Jackson tweeted:

People are here today expressing views on MTM, a critical
issue to our country. Theyre concerned abt human health & water
quality & so am I

MTM, for the uninitiated, refers to mountaintop mining--Big Coal's
term.

MTR, for untold thousands of Appalachian coalfield residents living
with the daily reality of millions of pounds of ANFO explosives rattling
their bones and house foundations, raining toxic silica and coal dust
showers, contaminating their waterways and watersheds with toxic coal
waste, and wiping out our nation's hardwood forests and adding to
greenhouse gases, refers to mountaintop removal--and this should be
in the EPA's terms and twitters, too.

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Oh dear, what is a good liberal environmentalist to do when our good
liberal environmentalist friends in the Obama administration are either
too afraid to stand up to Big Coal or lack the resolve or administration
support to simply do their jobs?

Take EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. We all love Lisa Jackson.
After eight years of a Bush-era gag-order, Jackson has effectively
reinvigorated her agency staff of 17,000 employees to protect air and
water quality, prevent exposure to toxic contamination in our
communities, and reduce greenhouse gases, according to their agency
website.

And yet, not one--count 'em--of Jackson's top officials in DC or
herself have made any effort to actually visit a mountaintop removal
site before making life-threatening decisions.

Coalfield residents have politely invited, requested,
asked, and begged for a Jackson visit
as the EPA makes its decisions
behind closed DC doors.

No doing. In truth, Lisa Jackson and her EPA officials are simply
too afraid of the Big Coal lobby and their bankrolled politicians--and
don't feel the Obama White House covering their backs--to set a foot on
the coalfield frontlines.

So, they talk--and wonderfully so--they twitter, they review, they
assess, they release statements, and then quietly let kinder and gentler
mountaintop removal permits slide by while the assault on Appalachian
communities continues.

Even the EPA's own officials have recently found "toxicity
levels as high as 50 times the federal guidelines in water downstream
from mining operations" in Appalachia.

But, according Adora Andy, spokeswoman for EPA, today's protest
"is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of EPA's role. Adora went on
to explain that the EPA does not regulate the mining industry, but is
only "responsible for ensuring that projects comply with the Clean Water
Act."

Except it's the mining industry that isn't complying with the Clean
Water Act.

She added: "Instead of "holding up" permits, Andy said, EPA is
working with coal companies and the Army Corps to reduce the amount of
waste dumped or the number of valleys filled."

And that's the kicker that Appalachia is expecting: Now that the EPA
has reportedly handed over 73 of the 79 massive mountaintop removal
operation permits that were in advance review, the fate of the
Appalachian health and well-being is now in the hands of the Army Corps.

And here's the real fundamental misunderstanding: Mountaintop
removal, which provides only 8 percent of our national coal production,
is a needless crime--one of the most egregious human
rights and environmental violations today. If mountaintop removal
waste-dumping operations are in clear violation of the Clean Water Act,
as panels of scientists and the EPA and Jackson have noted, then MTR or MTM operations
still remain in violation of the Clean Water Act, even if the EPA and
Army Corp strike a compromise to reduce the amount of waste dumped.

Following a nearly 40-year policy, Lisa Jackson thinks she can
"minimize" and regulate the impact of mountaintop removal, despite the
overwhelming evidence by a recent scientific study that, "the science is
so overwhelming that the only conclusion that one can reach is that
mountaintop mining needs to be stopped."

Which brings us back to today, and the protesters risking arrest in
front of Lisa Jackson's office.

They have no other choice to get Jackson's attention, and her
twitter.

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In the face of these blatant Clean Water Act violations,
coalfield
residents have come up to DC on their own dime with samples of toxic
water and documented evidence of their communities contaminated with
coal waste, panels of our nation's top scientists and water experts have
proven the irreversible impacts of mountaintop removal mining on
Jackson's jurisdiction over the waterways, and now a new study has even
pointed to MTR's role in increasing greenhouse gas emissions--all
part of EPA's self-proclaimed mission.

If Lisa Jackson won't go and see this first hand in Appalachia, then
the Appalachian coalfields are going to be planted, albeit two 20-foot
tripods, in front of the EPA.

According to Jackson's own website: "She has made it a priority to
focus on vulnerable groups including children, the elderly, and
low-income communities that are particularly susceptible to
environmental and health threats. In addressing these and other issues,
she has promised all stakeholders a place at the decision-making table."

I look forward to the day that she can twitter that same sentiment,
from the Appalachian coalfields, not her DC office.