COLUMBUS – It has only been 56 days since April 1, when the Obama Administration lowered the boom on future permits for mountaintop removal coal mining. Since then, three events have shown that there is no going back to the way it was.
1. On April 5, Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia exploded, killing 29 miners. The credibility of the coal companies collapsed in the explosion, and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship became a national symbol of reckless disregard for human life. Blankenship had been the chief spokesman for mountaintop removal coal mining.
2. On May 5, U.S. Senate President pro tempore Robert Byrd of West Virginia issued a new statement, going well beyond his startling December remarks. This time Byrd said outright that mountaintop removal coal mining “should be halted.” Here is the excerpt in context:
If the process of mining destroys nearby wells and foundations, if blasting and digging and relocating streams unearths harmful elements and releases them into the environment causing illness and death, that process should be halted and the resulting hazards to the community abated.
Byrd’s new position is stronger than that of the Obama Administration, which only intends stop the vast majority of future mountaintop removal permits. Byrd defines the effects of mountaintop removal and then says it should be halted. This would include current mountaintop removal projects as well.
3. On May 18, the U.S. EPA held a public hearing on its proposal to veto the Spruce Mine permit, the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history. The hearing was held at the 1,000-seat Charleston Civic Center, anticipating a stand-room-only crowd assembled by Faces of Coal, the coal company lobby group. Half the seats were empty.
— Paul Ryder, Organizing Director, Ohio Citizen Action