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OSM Silence Birds and Amphibians; Ignores People Too 

March 30, 2004
Photos by Vivian Stockman and Janet Fout

Page 1 of 2
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Public Hearings in WV, KY, TN, PA and DC on Proposed Buffer Zone Rule Change

Under the Bush administration, the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) wants to change the two-decade-old stream buffer zone rule of federal surface mining law so that coal companies practicing mountaintop removal mining can legally bury streams under millions of tons of former mountaintops.  

On Tuesday March 30, 2004, hundreds of people attended public hearings to tell Bush and Co. to back off the buffer zone.  The day began with a noon press conference in a park across from the Dept. of Interior (DOI, which oversees OSM) building in Washington DC. W. Va. coalfield resident Maria Gunnoe told how badly the streams she lives near needs the buffer zone rule to be enforced, not "clarified" (that's the Orwellian terminology with which BushCo. is promoting their proposed rule change).  Robert Kennedy, Jr., Rep. Frank Pallone, Joan Mulhern (Earthjustice), Francis Lambert (Tenn. Leagues of Women Voters) and Brent Blackwelder (executive director of Friends of the Earth) also spoke at the press conference, which was organized by Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth and other national groups. OVEC supplied high-resolution photos and slogans that the groups printed onto posterboard, making for great visuals around the speakers.

At 2 p.m. over 60 people gathered at the DOI building to ask OSM to enforce, but not change the buffer zone rule.  Be sure to read the comments of John Hill, Director of Economic and Environmental Justice of The United Methodist Churchs General Board of Church and Society. Sylvester, W. Va. resident Mary Miller's comments were picked up by the Associated press and carrying all over the nation and even internationally (see news coverage in the sidebar at left).

Citizens Coal Council (CCC) sent around the following report (edited):


Charleston, WV: The crowd of more than 100 at this hearing clapped and cheered in support of the spring peepers and birds, who attempted to speak with the help of Janet Fout's (co-director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition) tape of animals that are being wiped out by stream destruction. Anger and agitation spread throughout the audience as the local police turned off Janets microphone at the insistence of the OSM hearing examiner, who claimed that birds and frogs have no relation to the rule change. WRONG!


Many of the 40-plus leaders speaking against the rule change remarked that they lived and worked along streams. Several used the newly adopted WV message of Mountaintop  removal is a crime against the people, a crime against the earth, and economic insanity.  


Matt Sherman, a Lakota Spiritual leader and American Indian Movement organizer, spoke eloquently after he had been culturally insulted by WV Coal Association head Bill Raney. Apparently Bill had greeted Matt by asking, How you doing, Chief?


Green Tree, PA: The crowd at this hearing was 40-plus strong and included only one representative from the industry. Twenty-five vibrant speakers repeatedly told of the insanity of the proposed rule change and many asked that the 80,000-plus comments opposing mountaintop removal, valley fills, and the environmental destruction that were submitted during the public comment period for the draft EIS be incorporated as part of their testimony."


Towards the end of the hearing, when asked by Bev Braverman for clarification, the examiner stated that incorporating these comments would be taken under advisement, creating anger in the audience.


PA leaders were pleased with the variety and clarity of the comments and that new voices spoke on the issue. One of the groups became so energized that they are encouraging their members to plan a call-in action to request an additional extension of the comment period.


Harriman, TN: What an amazing display of unity from this crowd! More than 100 citizens attended and over half rose to speak against the rule change, generating great messages that were particularly critical of OSM, and receiving much applause and laughter. No one spoke in favor of the rule change. Many newer leaders thanked those SOCM members who have done so much to fight strip mining over the years. Cathie Bird, a local leader from Oak Valley, was one of the highlights with her warning to OSM to watch the backside of their acronym.


SOCM had hoped for a political spokesperson at the hearing, but were pleased that the message came from the leading environmental administrator for the state, moving the group closer to their greater goal of holding the TN governor responsible for protecting clean water.


Hazard, KY: Another vibrant crowd in excess of 100. Speakers against the rule change outnumbered industry commenters by more than two to one. Bert Lauderdale, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC) executive director was heard to say that the quality of the testimony was some of the best that he had heard in his 20-plus years of working in KY. Randy Moon, board member for both CCC and KFTC, apparently brought the house down with his angry, impassioned plea.


More on the Charleston Hearing

The Charleston Gazette reported: "Janet Fout thought strip mine regulators should hear the sounds of frogs and birds whose homes could be damaged by mountaintop removal mining.

So, at a public hearing on proposed changes to a key stream protection rule, Fout tried to play a tape of spring peepers and wood thrushes.

'Im speaking for life, said Fout, a Huntington environmental activist. 'We will all miss the birds and the frogs and the fish'."

The Charleston Daily Mail reported: "After a police officer had forced Fout to turn off the recording (of frogs and birds), she gave Morgan (the OSM official conducting the hearing) a parting shot.

'I know why you can't listen to this because this is a truth you cannot escape,' she said."

86 year-old OVEC board member Winnie Fox told OSM that they should listen to the birds (Janets and others) as did miners of old, who, when a canary died in the mine, "got the Hell out of there!"


Joan Mulhern of Earthjustice opens the press conference in DC.

The press crowd in while Robert F. Kennedy Jr. called the proposed rule change
was "the biggest attack on the Clean Water Act in 35 years." He said, "If it
(mountatinop removal coal mining) were happening in any other region of
the country, there'd be a revolution in this country. This could not happen in
California. The only place they could get away with this is Appalachia. "They
are leaving behind a moonscape that will be with us for hundreds of generations." 

Cindy Rank (middle, tan jacket) and Mary Miller (right of Cindy) and others
hold slogans and pictures generate by OVEC and poster-sized by the DC groups. 

A herd of reporters at the press conference.

Hello? Is anybody in government listening?

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