Jan. 13, 2003 note to Backstreet Boy Fans: Contrary
to a rumor
circulating on the Internet, Kevin Richardson's appearance before the United
States Congress in Washington DC (not Ohio), did NOT stop
mountaintop removal (MTR). But Kevin hasn't given up the fight! Please
help Kevin and groups like OVEC
stop this terrible form of coal mining.
For more information on MTR, follow our sidebar links and read the MTR
Factsheet or our Checklist
of What You Can Do To Help Stop Mountaintop Removal (MTR).
6 People In Action Gallery also includes pictures of Kevin, plus OVEC
has just added a special bonus gallery for Kevin's fans (He really
does look hot in that suit!)
Spotlights Mountain Massacre
by Dave Cooper
By train, by plane, by bus and by car, coalfield residents and activists made the long journey to Washington, DC, twice recently to focus national attention on coal companies massacre of our mountains - and our message went around the world.
For our first trip, May 14-15, OVEC chartered a bus from Charleston, WV, to DC. We spent a day meeting with congressional staffers to discuss the negative impacts of the Bush administrations re-write of the definition of fill, a rule within the Clean Water Act.
Over 45 folks, members of OVEC and other groups, joined forces with national environmental groups (see list below). We visited 31 Senators and Representatives to explain how mountaintop removal/valley fill strip mining is devastating Appalachian communities.
We asked for support of a bill introduced by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Chris Shays, (R-CT). Their bipartisan bill, HR 4863, the Pallone-Shays Clean Water Protection Act, re-instates the rule that Bush gutted from the Act, the one that restricts mountaintop removal mining waste from being dumped in streams.
A large group of citizens is briefed by OVEC's Dave Cooper before heading out to
Our final goal that day was to ask for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to hold a public hearing on the Bush fill rule definition.
We split into five groups of 10, rushing from appointment to appointment in the maze of DC congressional offices. Most of the staff and members of Congress we met were sympathetic to our concerns and promised to sign on to the bill. Several were deeply moved by the coalfield residents tales of flooding and other mountaintop removal-related destruction in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, and promised to do all they could to help.
Others were less helpful. As usual, Sens. Byrd (D-WV), McConnell (R-KY) and Bunning (R-KY) were indifferent to the plight and concerns of coalfield citizens. Stories and images of flooding and destruction fell on deaf ears.
At the end of the day, a huge group jammed into the office of Rep. Nick Joe Rahall (D-WV) to hear him stonewall and daydream about the economic development that can come with the flat, barren wastelands left by mountaintop removal. Much of the time he let aide Jim Zoia, Democratic chief of staff of the Resources Committee, do the talking. The meeting was a letdown to an otherwise optimistic and productive day. Rahall did give us a copy of a strongly-worded enough is enough letter addressed to the OSM and MSHA, complaining about slurry spills in the Big Sandy River, but his statement on valley fills completely ignored environmental impacts of mountaintop removal and showed little long-range vision.
What is the future of southern West Virginia? What is Welch going to look like 20 years from now? OVEC members asked. We got no answer. It gave us all something to think about as the bus rolled into Charleston that night at about 2:30 a.m.
About a week after we got back from the bus trip we got the good news: Sens. Jim Jeffords (I-VT), the ex-Republican who single-handedly gave the Democrats control of the Senate when he defected last year, and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), had called hearings for June 6 on the legality of valley fills, and would invite expert testimony on the subject. Happily, Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert Kennedy Jr. and musician Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys agreed to appear at a press conference following the hearings, virtually ensuring a large media turnout!
The press mobbed Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson after his testimony. From
Alaska to Australia, news of mountaintop removal went around the world on June
At the June 6 standing-room-only congressional hearing, Sens. Jeffords, Lieberman, Tom Carper (D-DE), John Corzine (D-NJ), and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) listened intently to expert testimony from University of Georgia entomologist J. Bruce Wallace, who explained how the organic matter found in headwater streams is vital to river ecology, and Joan Mulhern of Earthjustice, who detailed the enormous, nationwide environmental devastation that will result from the Bush administrations gutting of the Clean Water Act.
Robert Kennedy Jr. opens our June 6 DC press conference on mountaintop removal
and valley fills. Kennedy repeatedly emphasizes that many aspects of mountaintop
removal are illegal.
Last to speak was Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys. Sen. Lieberman had invited Richardson to testify, but a controversy had been brewing over Richardsons qualifications to testify at the hearing.
As many people know, in 2000 Richardson, a native of Estill County, Ky., formed the Just Within Reach Foundation to aid environmental causes in Appalachia. Flyovers of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia coalfields have further committed him to the cause. On his most recent flyover with Kennedy following the christening of the Kentucky Riverkeeper office, the Big Sandy River just happened to be running black (again) from a coal waste impoundment failure in Gary, WV.
The crowd at the press conference listens as Kevin Richardson of the pop rock
group Backstreet Boys vows to help us end mountaintop removal/valley fill strip
But apparently Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) wasnt impressed. Its just a joke to think that this witness can provide members of the United States Senate on important geological and water quality issues, he said before the hearings. So instead of attending and listening to all the expert scientific and legal testimony, Voinovich and other Republicans on the Committee chose to boycott the hearing, a gaffe which brought far more media coverage from Alaska to Australia of the hearings than if they had just sat quietly through it. (To see just some of the coverage visit the OVEC web site,
www.ohvec.org, and go to the news archive section. To watch the entire hearing, check out our
People In Action web page for June
Earth to Sen. Voinovich: Is dissing a celebrity with 10 million fans really a good public relations move? Is walking out of a scientific hearing the best way to learn more about a subject? Do any of your constituents drink water from the Ohio River that was contaminated by mountaintop removal slurry spills?
Richardson wowed the audience with the depth of his knowledge on the issue and the conviction of his testimony. Sen. Lieberman stated that Richardson had vindicated him. Meanwhile, Voinovich was flayed by Backstreet Boys fans and grilled by the media for his head-in-the-sand routine.
Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY, in the background) promised to accompany Kevin
Richardson on a flyover of mountaintop removal operations.
At a press conference following the hearings, coalfield residents and Coal River Mountain Watch members Julia Bonds, Pauline Canterberry and Freda Williams spoke, along with OVECs Larry Gibson, plus Kentuckians For The Commonwealths Teri Blanton and Lucious Thompson, and Nina and Mickey McCoy of Inez, Ky., site of the 300-million-gallon sludge spill from Kentucky's largest mountaintop removal mine.
Thompson, a retired coal miner, brought pictures of his houses cracked foundation and a valley fill that looms over his community. Theyre destroying our land and homes, he said, as filmmaker Bob Gates videotape of valley fills rolled next to the podium.
Pauline Canterberry explained how mountaintop removal had caused a 90 percent devaluation of her home in Sylvester. Ive got two inches of coal dust in my attic, she said. Its a fire hazard its a human health hazard!
All in all, June 6 was a fabulous day, with mountaintop removal receiving international scrutiny! OVEC staff and volunteers worked extra hard to make this day a success, as did KFTC and Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth and Natural Resources Defense Council. A huge thank you to these groups!
Other groups that sponsored the press conference included the Appalachian Center on the Economy and the Environment, Citizens Coal Council, Coal River Mountain Watch, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Wets Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Waterkeeper Alliance and West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
Our May 14-15 visit to DC really solidified this local-national coalition of organizations.
Our June 6 DC visit has super-charged the movement to stop the illegal devastation of the Appalachian coalfields.
Together, we will end mountaintop removal.
Looks Like We Made An Impression!
Editors Note: Below is a copy of a note on our May DC
visit from Earthjustice senior lawyer Joan Mulhern to OVEC co-director Dianne
I have already heard from several of the Congressional offices
you visited that they want to do anything they can to help. Two staff people
told me they cried after their meetings, after hearing about the devastation to
the communities and the environment that the groups told them about. You all had
a huge effect on the Hill.
Please know that this trip made a HUGE impression on the people
that you met with and created a buzz on the Hill. I concur with you that the
trip was a success. It also came at a critical time. This puts these issues in
so much of a better position if an effort is made in Congress to weaken the laws
for the coal companies. This is very important. I hope you let everyone who made
the trip know that their efforts had a big effect in DC. Many, many people on
the Hill knew that you were here, not just those (many) that you met with. That
is a huge help for our efforts in DC to save the laws that are supposed to
Personally, it was such a pleasure for me to see some of the
people I have met before and to meet many people I had not met before but heard
so much about. Every persons involvement in the effort to enforce
environmental laws is so important, it was inspiring.