Coalfield Resident's Letter To President Bush
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
May 23, 2002
Dear President Bush:
As residents of the Kentucky and West Virginia coalfields who are greatly harmed by mountaintop removal coal mining and illegal valley fills, and as representatives of organizations working in these areas, we challenge you to visit our area. We implore you to see first-hand the devastation from mountaintop removal - including the recent catastrophic floods in West Virginia and the aftermath of the massive coal slurry impoundment spill in Kentucky in 2000.
Our area has experienced two record "100-year floods," deadly floods in the past 10 months. This month, nine southern West Virginia residents have died in these floods. Scores of schools, roads, businesses, and homes have been wiped out - many after having been rebuilt from last July's floods. We have seen all-too-clearly how people and communities downstream of record-size strip mines and unregulated logging operations are the ones hardest-hit.
The EPA has called the slurry spill in Kentucky the southeast's worst environmental disaster. After over 300 million gallons of sludge leaked out of an impoundment near Inez, Kentucky, over 75 miles of streams were annihilated, and people lost their drinking water. More recent, but smaller, slurry spills have caused at least one county commission to call the Tug Fork River, along the West Virginia-Kentucky border, a dead river.
We are particularly concerned that your energy policies are tilted heavily toward extractive industries, and on the premise that coal must be mined whatever the cost to those of us whose rural ways of life are dependent upon our forested mountains and streams.
In West Virginia alone, over 1,000 miles of our mountain streams have been forever obliterated by valley fills. Already, over 300,000 acres of the world's most diverse temperate hardwood forests have been obliterated in the Mountain State. Our communities and mountain lifestyles are in danger of extinction.
With the recent action taken by your Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to re-write the definition of "fill material" - an effort to head off citizens' legal challenges to how valley fill permits are issued, and allow the continued annihilation of our mountain streams - it is starkly apparent that the decision-makers in your Administration do not have a full sense of the consequences of their actions. It is disingenuous for your Administration to claim that the re-write is merely a bureaucratic reconciliation of two different definitions. This move is not a harmless codification of the status quo, as those in the coal industry lobby and your Administration claim. The "status quo" is the litany of environmental and community devastations that we suffer.
Fortunately, we have at least temporary reprieve, thanks to federal Judge Charles Haden's ruling that limits these large valley fills. As your Administration evaluates its next steps in this legal challenge and explores other administrative avenues for dealing with the mountaintop removal issue, we implore you and your top staffers to visit us in the West Virginia and Kentucky coalfields. Come see for yourself the effects of unfettered permitting of mountaintop removal coal mining and valley fills.
According to recent press reports, in a draft Environmental Impact Statement for mountaintop removal and valley fills being prepared by several federal and state government agencies, regulators expect mountaintop removal to destroy nearly 230,000 additional acres of our mountains and valleys. And when projected future timbering is included, the total forest area that could be seriously damaged in the future is nearly one million acres. The study points out that many more miles of streams will be buried by valley fills, that streams not already buried could be seriously polluted, and that wildlife such as fish and songbirds in our ecologically diverse area will likely be lost.
You have visited a mining machinery retailer in West Virginia to voice your support for the mining industry to continue business as usual; it is time for you to visit the many of us who are so terribly harmed by "business as usual."
Thank you for your time and consideration. We look forward to your visit and an opportunity to present the other side of this controversy. Please feel free to have your staff contact either Coal River Mountain Watch at (304) 854-2182, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition at (304) 522-0246, or any of the other groups listed below.
Stephen A. Sanders, Directing Attorney
Doyle Coakley, Chair
Judy Bonds, Director
Dianne Bady, Co-Director
Mary Wildfire, President
Frank Young, President
Jeremy P. Muller, Executive Director