She Won't Back Down: Ashley Judd Defies Critics, Continues to Blast Mountaintop Removal

Today in The Hill, a quintessential inside-the-Beltway political newspaper, Ashley Judd scores a scathing commentary on one of the causes she cares most about: the campaign to abolish mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. 

"I am proud to stand with Eastern Kentuckians everywhere, building a positive future for our region," she writes.  "There’s so much potential today, right now, for Eastern Kentucky to proudly and bravely lead the way to a new energy economy in this country, with more jobs and overdue justice for the people of Appalachia.  It is time for a community abused and exploited by outsiders who have never had our best interests at heart to rise and lead the U.S. into a renewable energy future."

Kudos to Ashley for continuing to boldly engage in this fight in the face of a vicious character assault by mountaintop mining proponents in her native Kentucky.  (Like daughter, like mother -- Naomi Judd just joined our national effort to shut down the world's worst coal mining.) 

Ashley's OpEd coincided with a front-page story in The New York Times explaining how the Obama administration has arrived at a regulatory crossroads on mountaintop removal.  The article detailed the looming decision faced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the fate of the "hotly contested" Spruce 1 mining permit in West Virginia.  Although the Army Corps of Engineers rubber-stamped this project a few years ago -- slated as the largest ever mountaintop removal operation -- the EPA put the brakes on the permit back in March, citing the extensive ecological damage it would cause especially to water quality.  Now the agency is mulling whether to revoke the permit, with all eyes viewing that decision as a watershed moment for the course of mountaintop removal throughout the region.

The Times story rightly framed the Spruce Mine decision as the key decision that will determine if the Obama administration is committed to saving mountains or sacrificing them to placate the coal industry.  I'm with Maria Gunnoe, a proud West Virginian and pro-mountain coalfield activist who says, “We can’t keep blowing up mountains to keep the lights on."  Her stance was echoed in the story by a former mountaintop miner now fighting to stop the Spruce Mine.  “I know it put bread on my table," Charles Bella said, "but I hate destroying the mountains like that.”

Obviously, NRDC and our allies strongly concur that the Spruce Mine permit should be rejected -- along with any and all pending mining permits that call for blasting America's oldest mountain range and dumping the resulting mining waste into adjacent valley streams.  With a final decision expected later this year, it's anyone's guess right now where EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will come down on this particular project. 

While the EPA has made great strides over the past year in putting forth policies intended to curtail this highly destructive and blatantly obscene form of extreme strip mining, recent actions by the agency muddle the picture.  First there was EPA's rather inexplicable -- and frankly inexcusable -- approval of a permit earlier this month for a 760-acre mine in West Virginia that will fill three valleys, covering over 120 acres and destroying over 2 miles of streams. 

And it appears that yesterday the Corps of Engineers quietly authorized two permits in Ohio for the Oxford Mining Co.  The Halls Knob mine will destroy nearly 5,500 feet of waterways while the New Lexington North Area III mine will take out nearly 500 feet of streams.  I'll refrain from being too critical of this decision since I haven't learned much more about these projects but suffice it to say that in Ohio I'm guessing this is considered "hilltop removal."

So, we know that no matter what Ashley Judd will continue to stand with us against the environmental, economic and cultural atrocity that is mountaintop removal.  We need to know, once and for all, where our nation's premier environmental protection agency stands.