At a congressional hearing today on the Clean Water Act, two House representatives from West Virginia (Nick Rahall and Shelley Moore Capito) shifted the questioning to mountaintop removal coal mining during EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's testimony. Kind of like at a hockey game when a fight breaks out, I guess.
Click here to see a video excerpt of the discussion -- and read a great wrap-up -- by West Virginia Public Radio. The takeaway from the conversation is that while Jackson clarified that EPA is not opposed to coal mining per se, the agency is highly concerned about severe water quality impacts from mountaintop removal. In regard to the 79 pending mountaintop removal permits now under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jackson stated that in order to pass muster those proposed mining projects need to find a way to "minimize" damage to waterways. Hard to see how any "valley fill" could fit that bill!
Also, over on the Coal Tattoo blog, Ken Ward dissects a radio interview Rep. Rahall gave this morning in which he tried to square his role as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee with his long-standing, outspoken support for West Virginia's coal mining industry. Rahall reportedly assured any pro-coal supporters who might be listening:
"The point I'm trying to make is that I'm on their side. I am not anti-coal. I recognize the need to provide jobs for our people. I am with their frustration. I understand it...I get it. I get it. I get it. I just wish there was a little more understanding of the position I'm in."
What position would that be, I wonder? Pretzel?!
I've met plenty of people in Appalachia who are or were coal miners or whose family heritage is tied to the coal industry, yet they stridently oppose mountaintop removal. As one told me: "Mountaintop removal removes the miner from coal mining." This highly mechanized, highly destructive form of strip mining is tearing down America's oldest mountains and leaving little in its wake except pollution, poverty, sickness and despair. As another former coal miner framed it: "I'm not against coal. I'm against that."
When it comes to this Appalachian apocalypse, I think it's quite right for people to ask their elected representatives which side are they on? Knowing that is half the battle. Be sure to urge your member of Congress to support the bi-partisan House bill and Senate bill to end mountaintop removal coal mining.