Winds of Change Newsletter, December 2011 See sidebar for table of contents
Congress Comes to Charleston; Dogs and Ponies Cringe
On September 26, the US House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, held an "oversight field hearing" in Charleston, WV.
The event, a preposterous display of posturing staged at the taxpayers’ expense by Big Coal’s friends in Congress, was titled "Jobs at Risk: Community Impacts of the Obama Administration’s Effort to Rewrite the Stream Buffer Zone Rule."
The event was an apparent attempt to thwart important stream protections in Appalachia (protections that are at least on the books, if not enforced).
The list of 10 "witnesses" included members of the West Virginia and Ohio coal associations, a CONSOL executive, a spokesperson for the "Mountaintop Mining Coalition" and officials from the West Virginia, Virginia and Wyoming environmental protection agencies, agencies that do far more to protect the coal industry’s profits than to protect human health and the environment.
Of course, our state’s politicians couldn’t stay away: Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, Representative Shelley Moore Capito and Senator Joe Manchin sank to the occasion by bashing oversight and regulation of the coal industry.
They each failed to even acknowledge the growing body of scientific studies about the staggering human health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining.
Thanks to our good friends at Earthjustice and Sierra Club in Washington, DC, the "hearing" wasn’t a complete coal industry public relations show.
The DC groups worked with the staff of Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking Democratic member of the House Natural Resources Committee, to add two people to the list of speakers: OVEC organizer Maria Gunnoe and Coal River Mountain Watch volunteer Bo Webb.
As the event began, a congressional aide tried to stop filmmaker Mari-Lyn Evans (Coal Country and The Appalachians) from filming, even though she had prior approval. Of course, Evans would not stop the filming of the public hearing in this public building. She knows her rights!
Gunnoe and Webb massively gummed up the subcommittee’s original intent for the event. Applause broke out after each testified. Webb spoke about the studies that show mountaintop removal is making people sick and killing them prematurely.
"The very title of this hearing indicates a bias from this committee against those that are living and dying in mountaintop removal mining communities.
"The title suggests that jobs are at risk if the SBZ rule is corrected. The SBZ rule must be corrected in order to protect the people’s health. It was rewritten by George W. Bush at the cost of people’s health and it needs fixed," Webb said.
Gunnoe told the subcommittee, "We are poisoning our water and our air for electricity. Jobs in surface mining are dependent on blowing up the next mountain and burying the next stream. When will we say, enough is enough’?"
Gunnoe later asked the subcommittee, "How could anyone say that these temporary jobs is worth the permanent displacement of our people and the destruction of their waters, mountains and culture?"
Shouts of "shame on you" and "sham" rang out when the presiding congressmen, Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Representative Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), refused to ask questions of Gunnoe and Webb, but lobbed obviously rehearsed softball questions at some of the other panelists.
On the day of the event, Representative Markey asked the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) for more information about the practice of mountaintop removal mining and OSM’s failure to update its environmental safeguards, many of which have been unchanged since the early 1980s.
"The failure of OSM to address these troublesome programmatic issues is particularly alarming," Markey wrote in a letter to OSM Director Joseph Pizarchik, "given recent scientific studies that have documented the scale of the impacts to air and water quality, and the link between these impacts and human health problems throughout Appalachia."
In the letter, Markey noted that the OSM has failed to establish national standards to protect offsite areas from the impacts of MTR mining despite a clear statutory mandate to do so.
Because of the large scale impacts of MTR mining, the air quality of neighboring areas are often impacted by the spread of coal dust, which can cause serious respiratory ailments.
MTR mining can cause increased levels of selenium, other heavy metals, salinity, and suspended solids in nearby streams.
This pollution often spreads downstream, degrading water quality and threatening drinking water supplies.
The day after the "hearing," the subcommittee issued a press release about the event, listing each speaker and summarizing their testimony – every speaker, that is, except for Gunnoe and Webb.
No mention of them whatsoever. Angry citizens alerted one another and the committee’s staff received a barrage of criticism about the censorship.
The subcommittee’s odious press release underscored Gunnoe’s final words to them at the "hearing":
"My nephew reminds me of what surface mining looks like from a child’s eyes.
"As we were driving through our community, he looks up and says, ‘Aunt Sissy, what is wrong with these people? Don’t they know we live down here?’ I had to be honest with him and say, ‘Yes, they know. They just simply don’t care’."
To see the Mari-Lyn Evans and Jordan Freeman footage of Gunnoe and Web’s testimonies go to: