Virginian’s Take a Stand on Dumping Mine Waste in Appalachian Streams

Here’s a quick and dirty personal report from the Nation Wide Permit – 21 public hearing held in Big Stone Gap, Va a week ago. The Army Corps of Engineers is taking public comment on their proposal to discontinue the use of this permit, which allows coal companies to receive permits for surface mining and the subsequent dumping of mine waste into valley fills without doing an environmental impact statement or holding public hearings. There is also a video put together by Appalachian Voices. You can still comment on the Army Corp’s proposal here. I’ve pasted some reasons you can mention in your comments for why the NWP-21s should not be used any more.

From the Virginia NWP-Hearing

From the West Virginia NWP-Hearing 

Personal report:

There were probably around 700 people total, at least 500 on the industry side, many with black t-shirts with catchy slogans about how coal wont kill people and stuff. They were intimidating, and at the beginning heckled, booed, and threw stuff at our speakers. But, fairly soon into it all, the Army Corps chair of the meeting put his foot down and said we’re gonna keep it civil while people are speaking, and so it was for the most part after that. 

By the end of the night, the room was pretty close to half industry and half not industry supporters. A lot of us walked away feeling pretty good, even victorious. We had stayed civil and respectable, made solid comments that stayed on topic, in the face of ugliness from folks who talked about lots of things besides whether the Corps should suspend the use of NWP 21s.

It was not the craziness of Charleston or Ky, and sounds something akin to Knoxville. We had peacekeepers with white bandannas, we had food that the volunteer house here in APpalachia cooked for everybody. Kathy Selvage and Pete Ramey took the worst from the industry folks, and by the time the endless stream of Virginia Tech students calling for an abolition of climate changing coal said their piece, many of the miners had left for home.  

 

 

Some points you can make when making comments to the Army Corps of Engineers at their online comment area are:

1. I applaud the Army Corps of Engineers for its proposal to end the use of the one-size-fits-all NWP 21 permit which allows for a streamlined approval of mountaintop removal operations in Appalachia. For decades, mountaintop removal and valleyfills have had a devastating impact on local communities, the economy, and our environment.

2. NWP 21 for permitting mountaintop removal mining should apply to the entire Appalachian region, including northern Alabama. Failure to do so might lead the coal industry to simply relocate operations to those areas with the most lenient permitting process.  
3. No grandfathering of permits should be allowed. Past permits should be reviewed to make sure they meet the spirit and intent of the Clean Water Act.

4. NWP 21 should never have been issued, because filling these streams has more than minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects.

5.  The use of NWP 21 is a violation of the Clean Water Act because it is suppose to be used for activities that produce “no significant environmental impact” and the destruction of entire mountains and mountain ranges cannot be considered an insignificant environmental impact.

6. EPA’s own scientists have determined that mountaintop removal and other surface coal mining activities authorized by NWP 21 are causing cumulatively significant degradation of streams and forests in Appalachia – including the destruction of ecologically valuable headwater streams and the pollution of downstream waters.

7. The Corps has long recognized that “the purpose of the NWP program is to reduce regulatory delays and burdens on the public, to place greater reliance on state and local controls, and to free our limited
resources for more effective regulation of other activities with greater potential to adversely impact the aquatic environment.” 56 Fed. Reg. 14, 598—14, 605 (Apr. 10, 1991).

 Possible points to make about this:

a. Constantly fighting coal companies and failed agencies to protect our homes, lives, water, and communities is a much greater burden on
the public.

b.  We have no state or local controls.  WVDEP is a failed agency that fails to control illegal coal company activity.

c.  Nothing adversely impacts the aquatic environment more than burying it.

8. The impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining are significant and permanent, the ArmyCorps should not issue any additional authorizations under NWP 21 while the agency finalizes the process of modifying the permit to prohibit its use in Appalachia.

9. The way the ACOE conducted these hearings was illegal and some of the public hearings amounted to sanctioned riots which coal supporters attended solely to disrupt. By failing to control the meeting process so that all in attendance had equal opportunity to testify, the Corpsbecame a party to the denial of these first amendment rights. The Corps should reschedule these meetings and conduct them in an orderly fashion that protects the first amendment rights of all citizens.

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