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June 25, 2009

From the Senate to the WV Coalfields, a Pivotal Week for Mountaintop Removal

This post was co-written by Bruce Nilles and Mary Anne Hitt, director and deputy director, respectively, of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.
 
This has been a historic and game-changing week in the fight to end mountaintop removal. We will undoubtedly look back on the events of the past few days as a major turning point in the struggle to end this incredibly destructive form of coal mining. There has never been a more important time to make your voice heard, and we hope you will join us.

The most timely news is today's historic hearing on Capitol Hill: "The Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining on Water Quality in Appalachia." The hearing is being conducted by the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Work Committee’s Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife.

It starts at 3:30ET, and don't worry if you can't be in D.C. to catch it. We'll have people in the hearing live-blogging and twittering the happenings from this important hearing. You can watch it here on our Compass blog, or simply follow the #stopmtr and #mtr hashtags on Twitter.

The hearing comes on the heels of major arrests during a mountaintop removal protest on Tuesday in the coalfields of southern West Virginia. NASA climate expert Dr. James Hansen, the actor Daryl Hannah, 94-year old retired Congressman Ken Hechler, and Goldman Prize winner Judy Bonds were among the two dozen people arrested in front of Marsh Fork Elementary School, which is located next to a coal processing plant and directly beneath a dam holding back billions of tons of mining waste. As Dr. Hansen told the Charleston (WV) Gazette,

"The reason I have come to West Virginia is that coal is the number one issue in solving the climate problem. It is the cause of half of the excess carbon in the atmosphere. And mountaintop removal is the place that we should start."


Then on Monday, there was a major decision related to mountaintop removal from the U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling on the Kensington Gold Mine in Alaska. The court ruled that the mine could dump all its waste into Lower Slate Lake even though all that waste will kill everything in the lake.

How is this related to coal, you ask? Because the justices referred to a Bush Administration era definition of "fill" under the Clean Water Act, a rule change made to accommodate coal companies that wanted to dump their mountaintop removal waste into streams.

This ruling is terrible news for those around Lower Slate Lake, but it also has national implications. The implications of this ruling increase the pressure on Congress and the Obama administration to restore the original definition of "fill" - if they do not, mining companies will continue dumping their waste into streams in Appalachia and beyond.

You can take action to let Congress know that it is time to get rid of these Bush-era rules once and for all.

The events of this week will have ripple effects for years and decades to come, as more and more people step up in the fight to end mountaintop removal. As one example, we just found out that today Will Harlan, the editor-in-chief of Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine, will be running the entire length of the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 72 steep and rocky miles – in protest of mountaintop removal. As he told us in an email about his run:

"There are five proposed mountaintop removal sites within 50 miles of the nation’s most visited national park. I hope that my run will inform hikers and visitors to the Great Smokies that scenic, ancient, ancient mountains are being blown up just a stone’s throw away."


What are you doing to do to help?

Please visit our What’s At Stake website to learn about all the mountaintop removal permits currently in front of the Obama administration, which mountains and communities are being targeted, and how you can help. Follow our live-blogging and Twittering of the Senate hearing today at 3:30ET. Write to Congress and the President.

Now is the time to step up and take a stand for the mountains. Please join us.

You can make a difference.

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