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West Virginia Activists Call for Enforcement of Existing Environmental Laws

07/03/2013 03:04 pm ET | Updated Sep 02, 2013

For those of you who don't already know, it isn't only the coal companies who are responsible for the problems caused by coal mining in West Virginia. There are a host of people who have a hand in either passively or actively allowing our state to be exploited. Some of these people run the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. Well I guess "run" is a relative term here. Think about it this way, the DEP is an agency of the state government, and who runs the state government in West Virginia? To quote Rev. Denise Giardina, "When you look at the state of West Virginia, West Virginia is a wholly owned subsidiary of the coal industry." So, if it weren't for what little federal oversight they get, the coal industry essentially would regulate itself in our great state.

Ever since the DEP started "regulating" the coal industry, they've swept citizen complaints under the rug to protect coal companies. We're doing something about it though, the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) says that citizens have a right to petition the Office of Surface Mining and reclamation (OSM) to assume authority over a failed state agency. The OSM is a federal agency, so hopefully a bit further out of the reach of the coal industry.

There's a wide range of groups signed on to this petition, including Coal River Mountain Watch, the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, the League of Women Voters, and the Catholic Community of Appalachia just to name a few. On top of that, a campaign (the CARE campaign, or Citizen Action for Real Enforcement) has been formed to push this petition and do whatever needs done to ensure it's taken seriously.

Earlier this week a group of concerned citizens, including myself, went to deliver this petition by hand to our esteemed Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. We were greeted by a number of capitol police officers, and some folks from the state police. Some people in our group spotted the governor fleeing the capitol building as we came in. After a bit of rallying in the governor's office, we tried to give the petition to the governor's aide (who was being flanked by two large police officers). She wouldn't accept it citing security concerns.

We asked them why they didn't afford the same level of protection to the people of West Virginia from mining pollution, but they didn't have an answer. I for one am sick and tired of the people who hold the power in this state flat out ignoring the concerns of their constituents. They should expect continued action until our voices are heard.

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