Activists Call on Virginia Mining Agency to Protect Public Health, Stop MTR
On July 18, members of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) and the Sierra Club delivered a letter to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) urging them to halt the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining due to its health impacts on local residents.
Above, SAMS and Sierra Club activists outside DMME's district office in Wise County, Virginia, which has already suffered extensive devastation from mountaintop removal mining. That's SAMS president Sam Broach, a former coal miner, above at right, and vice-president Jane Branham, a retired nurse, third from right. With them are (L to R) Susanna Ronalds-Hannon, Laura Miller, Willie Dodson, and Ellie Smith.
The letter calls on the agency to consider the health impacts of mountaintop removal mining on surrounding residents and downstream communities. According to a recently released study, Mortality in Appalachian coal mining regions, by Dr. Michael Hendryx of West Virginia University, the rate of birth defects and premature mortality is significantly higher among people who live near mountaintop removal coal mining as compared to elsewhere. Cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease are much more prevalent in these communities.
"The presence of the Remote Area Medical clinic in our community this weekend brings light to the fact that our region is in desperate need of better access to quality, affordable health care," says Branham. "We finally have the science to back up what we've been seeing in our communities for decades. Irresponsible mining practices are significantly contributing to asthma, lung cancer, heart disease and many other health problems as result of polluted air and water."
The Sierra Club and SAMS also urged the DMME to be more responsive to community input in the permitting process by holding meaningful public hearings in the directly-affected communities, listening to people's concerns, and taking into account quality of life for area residents in all permitting decisions."
"People should have a voice in shaping the future of their communities and the DMME plays a key role in this process," says Broach. "The DMME has a responsibility not only to factor public health concerns into the permitting process, but to be responsive to the concerns of communities and to follow the letter of the law to a tee for every permit issued."
SAMS, the Sierra Club, and partner group Appalachian Voices also highlighted their concerns with the proposed 1,200-acre Ison Rock Ridge surface coal mine permit in Wise County. The Environmental Protection Agency is holding up the permit due to concerns about the proposed mine's impact on the local watershed. SAMS, the Sierra Club, and App Voices support the EPA's objections, and point out that area watersheds are already severely polluted and must be thoroughly cleaned up before the DMME considers issuing new permits.
"It's critical that the EPA stay strong and continue to protect communities and human health if our state mining agencies are unwilling to do so," says Sierra Club environmental justice organizer Hannah Morgan, pictured below with Broach. "The DMME is refusing to respond to valid community concern about the irresponsible practice of surface coal mining, so we must call on the EPA to continue their oversight work and hold these state agencies accountable to the people."
The letter deliverered to DMME in Wise County was a copy of the letter Sierra Club and App Voices activists personally delivered that same day in Charlottesville to DMME's newly director, Conrad Spangler. SAMS members participated in the meeting over the phone.
"We are committed to having a dialogue with our regulatory agencies about these concerns and we hope that the new leadership will be committed to taking the agency in a new direction, one that is responsive to community concerns and genuinely values public health," says Virginia Sierra Club Director Glen Besa.
Learn more about what the Sierra Club and SAMS are doing to stop mountaintop removal mining and move America beyond coal. Hear what Wise County residents have to say about MTR (scroll down to Virginia videos). And click on the photo below to listen to Stop Tearing the Mountains Down, written and performed by Jane Branham and Sam Broach.