The Bush Republican Administration, beholden to corporate interests over the public interest, has issued draft revisions to surface mining law to increase blowing up mountain tops to strip mine more coal. The draft rules authorize disposal of mine waste in valleys and streams, polluting water downstream, including underground aquifers, with toxic chemicals.
The Bill Moyers Journal last Friday did a special on this issue, covering the action by Evangelical Christians in West Virginia who have organized under the banner of Christians for the Mountains. They are fighting to protect their families, children and communities from rampant air and water pollution, including their drinking water.
Moyers quotes one member of Christians for the Mountains, Judy Bonds:”
There are three million pounds of explosives used a day just in West Virginia to blow the tops off these mountains. Three million pounds a day…To knock fly rock everywhere, to send silica and coal dust and rock dust and fly rock in our homes. I wonder which one of these mountains do you think God will come down here and blow up? Which one of these hollers do you think Jesus would store waste in? That’s a simple question. That’s all you have to ask.”
As John M Broder for the New York Times writes:
“Mountaintop mining is the most common strip mining in central Appalachia, and the most destructive. Ridge tops are flattened with bulldozers and dynamite, clearing all vegetation and, at times, forcing residents to move.
The coal seams are scraped with gigantic machines called draglines. The law requires mining companies to reclaim and replant the land, but the process always produces excess debris. Roughly half the coal in West Virginia is from mountaintop mining …”
The industry political connection, Broder says came about as follows:
“The Clinton administration began moving in 1998 to tighten enforcement of the stream rule, but the clock ran out before it could enact new regulations. The Bush administration has been much friendlier to mining interests, which have been reliable contributors to the Republican Party, and has worked on the new rule change since 2001.
The early stages of the revision process were supported by J. Stephen Griles, a former industry lobbyist who was the deputy interior secretary from 2001 to 2004. Mr. Griles had been deputy director of the Office of Surface Mining in the Reagan administration and is knowledgeable about the issues and generally supports the industry.
In June, Mr. Griles was sentenced to 10 months in prison and three years’ probation for lying to a Senate committee about his ties to Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist at the heart of a corruption scandal who is now in prison.”
Broder notes that the stream rule referred to is a critical issue:
The rule, which would apply to waste from both types of mines, is known as the stream buffer zone rule. First adopted in 1983, it forbids virtually all mining within 100 feet of a river or stream. …
The Army Corps of Engineers, state mining authorities and local courts have read the rule liberally, allowing extensive mountaintop mining and dumping of debris in coal-rich regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. From 1985 to 2001, 724 miles of streams were buried under mining waste, according to the environmental impact statement accompanying the new rule. If current practices continue, another 724 river miles will be buried by 2018, the report says.
You can get a lot more information on this issue by going to the webpage set up by the Bill Moyers Journal. Go to references and reading.
You can read and give your comments on the proposed rule and draft Environmental Impact Statement by going to the website for the US Office of Surface Mining in the Interior Department. There is a 60 day comment period.
The glaring loopholes in this rule are obvious. Their August 24, 2007 press release says:
“All mining activities must still avoid increases in sedimentation and protect fish and wildlife and related environmental values “to the extent possible” using the “best technology currently available.” and “use the most environmentally protective alternative or explain why that alternative is not possible”
These rules really set no real conditions at all with such vague language. It’s totally up to those approving the permits. If you have mining industry people running the program as Bush currently does, then getting a permit really means little or nothing.