From Appalachia To Standing Rock, Water Is Life

02/13/2017 11:47 am ET | Updated Feb 13, 2017

I live in West Virginia, one of the states where residents can now expect more toxic coal pollution in our streams and rivers thanks to a repeal of mining safeguards by the Republican-controlled Congress. A few short days after that disastrous decision, the White House cancelled an environmental review and then approved the permit for the Dakota Access pipeline, which threatens the drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux and millions more people downstream.

The Standing Rock Sioux have long opposed the Dakota Access pipeline because of the risk to drinking water, and this week’s decision was one more painful demonstration of how quickly some political leaders will put profits over public health and tribal sovereignty. In December of 2016, the Obama administration had ordered an environmental review of the pipeline to study the effect it would have on the Standing Rock Sioux’s land and Lake Oahe, the body of water the pipeline would cut through, after thousands of tenacious, prayerful water protectors inspired the nation by resisting the pipeline with a simple message: water is life.

Here in Appalachia, where our streams have been ravaged for decades by coal mining, we were eager for the same basic, common-sense water pollution protections that the rest of the country takes for granted. The Stream Protection Rule had been in the works for eight years, but in wiping it off the books last week using an arcane maneuver that the New York Times described as a “legislative cudgel that has rarely been used,” Trump and the GOP again chose to side with polluters over people.

They didn’t just repeal the Stream Protection Rule ― House Speaker Paul Ryan bragged in a press release that it was “the first regulation repeal going to President Trump’s desk.” Frankly, that doesn’t surprise me, given Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail and the GOP’s cozy relationships with their fossil fuel cronies. But thankfully, it’s also energizing millions of Americans, who are fighting back against the rollback of environmental protections.

As I said in my recent column, the Stream Protection Rule sought to tackle the decades-old practice of coal companies dumping tons of dangerous mining waste from their mining operations into nearby waterways that were frequently used for drinking, farming, and fishing by local communities. This practice contaminates local water with dangerous heavy metals like mercury, selenium, and arsenic, which can cause severe mental development problems and stunted cognitive growth in children exposed to these toxins.

Families in the coal mining areas of Appalachia ― including in the state of West Virginia, where I live ― have been fighting for over a decade to get these fundamental protections in place to keep toxic mining pollution out of their drinking water. Those long-overdue standards were finally put in place last year, and now as one of its first votes, the new Congress not only threw them out, but is also trying to prevent any similar protections in the future. It’s outrageous and unconscionable.

From Appalachia to Standing Rock, water is life. If you think this could never happen in your community, to your water, remember that we all live downstream. And with new federal leadership that’s toying with the idea of eliminating the environmental enforcement office of the EPA ― or even getting rid of the EPA altogether ― no one should take the safety of their water for granted anymore.

What can you do to help? On the Stream Protection Rule, find out here how your U.S. Senators voted by clicking here (a “yay” vote is bad and “no” vote is good), and then call them at 888-454-0483 to thank them or hold them accountable.

On the Dakota Access Pipeline, President Trump recently claimed that he hadn’t received any calls opposing and that it wasn’t controversial ― an alternative fact if I’ve ever heard one! So raise your voice. Send him a message here or give him a call at 888-201-9377 ― even better, snap a pic or video of you making your call and tweet it at him! If you tag @sierraclub we might share it.

Making it easier for fossil fuel companies to pollute our water is not what the American people voted for in this election, and it doesn’t match our values or the future we want for our kids. Join us in standing up for clean water, and make sure your voice is heard.

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