Valley fills, sludge spills,
flood chills and judge thrills
by Vivian Stockman, OVEC
May 14, 2002
Since about the beginning of May, folks attempting to lower their Prozac doses probably have had a rough time, as the headlines have been enough to throw anyone into a depressive-manic (sic) state:
May 3: ~Two dead, nine missing in
May 4: ~The mourning after: McDowell cleans up, looks for
missing~ ~New slurry spill heads our
way~ ~Bush to Allow Mining Industry to Fill
May 5: ~Floods claim sixth in
May 6: ~Study: Mining, timbering will take toll on forests in 4 states; Draft report cites mountaintop
removal~ ~Easy permits proposed for mountaintop removal
mining; Department of the Interior is manipulating impact study, environmentalists
May 7: ~Water came from above and below; Rockefeller suspects logging made floods worse in Coalwood~
May 8: ~Death toll rises to 9 in
missing~ ~Gary impoundment troubled from the start; DEP delayed taking over dangerous, 300-acre dam
operation~ ~Legislation Proposed to Overturn Damaging New Clean Water Act Rule Adopted by the Bush
May 9: ~Bush budget snags $2 billion from mine trust
fund~ ~Judge blocks new valley fills; Corps of Engineers' practice illegal, violates Clean Water Act, Haden
May 10: ~OSM pushes against mine
(For the stories behind the headline click on the above links: see the
current and archived news sections of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition's
website for additional news articles).
Late Thursday May 2, another round of deadly floods hits southern West Virginia, leaving nine dead, hundreds homeless and roads obliterated. Again, many residents say they believe the floods were worsened because the coal and timber industries denude huge swaths of forests. These folks don't need to wait on the latest study to know that a devegetated, mountain-scalped, valley-filled landscape doesn't absorb rain runoff the way a lush temperate forest does.
Early Friday May 3, the heavy rains send 5,000 gallons a minute of sludge (including water, coal fines and the chemicals used in treating coal for market) spewing out of a coal waste impoundment near Gary, McDowell County W. Va., into the Tug River (the third major sludge spill in as many years for the battered river). All told, the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) estimates "tens of millions" of gallons escaped. DEP warns downstream residents that the entire dam could collapse with "catastrophic" results. Since 1999 the DEP issued at least 26 environmental violations for this impoundment, but the companies operating the impoundment took no remedial action. DEP could have, and obviously should have, shut down the impoundment after just two violations in one year.
Late Friday May 3, Bush, Inc., the Environmental Protection Agency and The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decide, hey, we need some more excitement in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Let's gut the Clean Water Act. That way we'll legalize all those illegal valley fills we've permitted the coal companies to build for decades.
Nationwide, newspaper editorials railed against Bush's incredulous act and its potential impact on West Virginia and the entire country. In the midst of all this, we also learn from a Freedom of Information Act request by Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward that Bush, Inc. is attempting to hijack the long overdue environmental impact statement on mountaintop removal.
here for details.
After hitting a bottle of fiery liquid or pretty pills, some people wonder if there's a pill that can revive the American system of government. Is there a pill that can restore consciousness to our so-called leaders?
Wednesday May 8, something much better than a pill appears: Judge Charles H. Haden II, the sexiest man alive. The judge, a sage student of the law, reiterated once again that valley fills are illegal, and, ahem, Mr. Bush, only Congress can rewrite the laws of the land. To send Haden thanks on behalf of West Virginia's mountains, streams and all our futures, write to:
Chief U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II
Southern District of West Virginia
300 Virginia St.
Charleston, WV 25301
A day earlier, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and other, bipartisan members of Congress pledged to introduce legislation that blocks Bush's change to the Clean Water Act and bolsters the true intent of that Act. Shays is apparently appalled at what is happening here and wants to do all he can to stop the insanity. He deserves our utmost thanks (Shays--phone: 202-225-5541, fax: 202-225-9629, web:
We've been through this roller-coaster of events before. Remember the first time Judge Haden ruled that valley fills were illegal in October of 1999? For a fleeting moment we savored victory, but we knew the backlash by the coal industry and its so-called regulators would be vehement and it was.
How brave Judge Haden is to put himself through all this again! The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his first ruling, saying the case, filed against a state agency, should have not been filed in federal court. This latest decision comes from a case filed by the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth against a federal agency only, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There won't be any jurisdictional problems as this case heads to the same Court of Appeals, which is unfortunately known for favoring the rights of corporate "persons" over the rights of real people.
The backlash hasn't been so severe this time, although we have heard that this will be the end, the end they say, of the coal industry. No doubt, the backlash is less because the coal industry feels safe with such a good bud in occupation of the Whitehouse. Already, no doubt, someone is crafting legislation, this time for Congressional approval, which would legalize valley fills. And of course, an appeal of Haden's latest decision is already underway.
Since his first day on the job, May 1, OVEC's new organizer Dave Cooper, has been working with other state and national groups to get a busload of coalfield residents to DC. It's been a baptism by fire, and Dave has done an awesome job. Our goal in DC is to meet with legislators to tell them exactly what it is like to live in the shadow of mountaintop removal /valley fill operations. Some of the coalfield residents scheduled to come along to DC now cannot go because they are dealing with the aftermath of the flood, but we will be certain to tell their stories. We will also invite legislators to come visit us to see the devastation for themselves. We'll let you know how the DC trip goes.
If you are not making the DC trip, but would like to help, please consider making a donation to: OVEC, PO Box 6753, Huntington, WV 25773-675. Please write "DC trip" in the note line of your check. Many thanks to those of you have already donated!