THE BLOG
12/08/2014 12:01 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2015

Report Outlines Ways to Protect Appalachian Communities from Mountaintop-Removal Coal Mining

If you think mountaintop removal coal mining's days are over, you're wrong. In 2013, Virginia issued nine new surface mining permits and two acreage expansions, West Virginia issued 25 new permits, and Kentucky issued 30 new permits which will destroy mountains and threaten nearby communities.

An excellent new report out from the Alliance for Appalachia evaluates the Obama Administration's track record on mountaintop removal, and it does not give the Administration high marks for its efforts to date. The report finds that federal agencies have not followed through with initiatives intended to address mountaintop removal, and it outlines specific next steps the Obama Administration can take to tackle the worst harms to the region's land, water, and communities.

From the report:

In June, 2009, the Obama administration created a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among federal agencies responsible for protecting Appalachian communities from the extreme damage of mountaintop removal coal mining. Though grassroots groups realized this MOU would not fully end the practice of mountaintop removal, nor ensure a just and sustainable economy in our region, citizen groups saw this MOU as a small, though significant, step in the Obama Administration taking much needed federal‐level action to address the intersecting health, environmental, political and economic challenges our region continues to face.

Not enough has been done to stop coal companies from blowing up mountains and tossing the rubble into neighboring streams, poisoning waterways and economically devastating Appalachian communities.

The Alliance for Appalachia's report does a top-notch job of documenting the continued destruction wrought by mountaintop-removal, while outlining the administration's missed opportunities to protect communities or rein in state environmental agencies that routinely fail to enforce the law:

This report comes on the heels of accusations from local groups that a Kentucky mining company has violated the Clean Water Act nearly 28,000 times, likely the largest non-compliance of the law in its 42-year history, while state regulators continue to give only slaps on the wrists. The lack of accountability for rampant violations of the Clean Water Act and other laws are one reason that citizen groups are calling for urgent federal attention to the issue.

Mountaintop removal coal mining has already damaged or destroyed roughly 2,000 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of mountaintops and forests by 2020. A mounting body of peer reviewed research makes it clear that mountaintop removal is linked to high rates of cancer, birth defects, and other health problems in nearby communities. While the Sierra Club will continue to fight alongside local community groups and other national environmental allies to end the practice entirely, federal and state agencies must step in and enforce existing laws designed to protecting our air, water and health.

Much can be done today through executive action, and there's no time for delay. Here are four key steps the Alliance and other environmental organizations including the Sierra Club are asking the Obama administration to take today:

1) Create a strong selenium pollution standard that ensures that citizens maintain the ability to test for selenium pollution in their own water and enforce violations;

2) Implement a strong conductivity rule based on scientific research the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already conducted, which demonstrates that the ionic pollution represented by high conductivity devastates aquatic organisms and ecosystems;

3) Institute a stream protection rule that preserves a strong stream buffer zone requirement so that mining waste can no longer be dumped into our streams; and

4) Implement a strong minefill rule to address the currently unregulated dumping of coal burning waste into active and abandoned mine sites.

Mountaintop removal coal mining poisons drinking water, destroys beautiful forests and diverse wildlife habitat, increases the risk of flooding, and harms the health of entire communities. The Obama administration must take action before it is too late.