Following protest, EPA board upholds finding that mountaintop removal threatens environmental health
More than 100 people were arrested at the White House last week during a protest against mountaintop removal. The nonviolent civil disobedience was part of Appalachia Rising, a nationwide gathering of citizens organizing to end to the destructive form of coal mining that's ravaging mining communities throughout the region.
"The science is clear, mountaintop removal destroys historic mountain ranges, poisons water supplies and pollutes the air with coal and rock dust," said NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who was among those arrested. "Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, can and should be abolished. The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries must end."
The day after the protest, which also included a sit-in at leading mountaintop removal financier PNC Bank, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's independent Science Advisory Board issued a draft review of EPA's research into the water quality impacts of valley fills, where the mining waste blasted off the tops of mountains is dumped into streams below. The board said it agrees with EPA's conclusion that valley fills are associated with increased levels of electrical conductivity -- a measure of water pollution -- that threaten life in surface waters. The EPA announced the SAB review last Thursday.
"This independent review affirms that EPA is relying on sound analysis and letting science and only science guide our actions to protect human health and the environment," said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Pete Silva. "We will continue to follow the science and solicit input from all stakeholders as we safeguard water quality and protect the American people."
The SAB reviewed EPA's draft report titled "A Field-Based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Central Appalachian Streams," which sets standards for conductivity. The benchmark aims to protect 95 percent of aquatic species in streams in the Appalachian region impacted by mountaintop removal and valley fills.
The board called on EPA to strengthen its study by better estimating the area affected by Appalachian surface mining. It also called for a detailed accounting of the habitats affected and the anticipated loss of biodiversity.
Based on its draft report, EPA released guidelines for mining permits back in April designed to minimize irreversible water quality damage caused by mountaintop removal. The guidelines would limit conductivity to between 300 and 500 microSiemens per centimeter -- about five times normal levels. Appalachian streams impacted by valley fills typically have conductivity upwards of 900 microSiemens per centimeter.
In other news in the fight against mountaintop removal, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D-Tenn.) is petitioning to limit coal mining on more than 500 square miles of the North Cumberland Plateau. Filed with the U.S. Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining, the petition calls on the agency to initiate a study and public discussion on the suitability of those areas for surface mining.
Bredesen's request represents the first time a state government has petitioned OSM to set aside ridgelines, thus protecting them from mountaintop removal.
"These lands are managed by the state of Tennessee for hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and other outdoor recreational activities," said Bredesen. "This petition asks the federal government to help us prevent mining on these ridgelines to protect their important cultural, recreational and scientific resources."
(Photo of Appalachia Rising's day of action by Rana X. via Flickr.)