Political momentum appears to be building against the egregious, outrageous practice of mountaintop removal mining. First of all, last month on the campaign trail President-Elect Obama expressed his concerns about this strip mining on steroids. Now comes welcome news that Kentucky legislators care more for mountains, the environment and their constituents' quality of life than the rapacious, reckless coal industry.
Yesterday Governor Steve Beshear -- joined by State Attorney General Jack Conway, Congressman Ben Chandler (Lexington) and Congressman John Yarmuth (Louisville) -- sent letters to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally objecting to the Bush administration's recent proposal to legalize the dumping of mountaintop mining waste near rivers and streams. This impressive collection of lawmakers called the proposed rule change a threat to the state's ability to protect its natural resources, especially water.
"Kentucky's vast water resources are critical to our health and economic development," Beshear wrote in his letter to Stephen Johnson, EPA administrator, "and I do not believe the newly proposed waivers can be effectively and uniformly applied to protect these water resources."
While noting that coal remains vital to Kentucky's economy and the country's energy needs, the governor wrote in his letter that he is "strongly committed to environmentally responsible coal mining and [therefore] cannot support rules that may be subject to arbitrary administration or enforcement."
The Bush administration's proposed rule change would weaken a 1983 federal regulation that restricts where mining waste can be dumped, a so-called "Excess Spoil minimization - Stream Buffer Zone" rule. What the Bush EPA is trying to do in its waning days is to erase that restriction, making it easier to dump waste near homes and potentially into waterways and streams.
Attorney General Conway reiterated support for coal while nevertheless insisting on the obligation to "pass along a stable environment to coming generations." Congressman Chandler applauded the governor, as well, and stated that "undermining the Stream Buffer Zone would endanger our water and threaten the health of our people and economy." Echoing that sentiment, Rep. Yarmuth insisted that industry's economic gains should not come at the expense of the health and quality of life of Kentuckians, and noted that "the damaging effects of dumping fill into our streams are evident in the water quality and environment in coal producing regions."
The people of Kentucky should be proud to have such stalwart champions for their environment. And other elected leaders should take heed that the health and safety of those whom they represent take precedence over corporate greed and polluter profits.
Face it, coal is a dirty business -- and removing mountaintops to get it, leaving behind polluted streams, poisoned communities and a leveled landscape...well, that's the dirtiest trick of all.