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House mountaintop removal hearings conclude with strong EPA testimony

Melissa Waage

Posted May 12, 2011

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The Environmental Protection Agency's Nancy Stoner stood up to a panel of coal industry friends at the second House hearing on EPA's mountaintop removal policies yesterday.  Her core message: "Americans do not need to choose between having clean water and a healthy economy. They deserve both." 

A couple dozen anti-mountaintop removal activists, including several who made the long trip from West Virginia and Virginia, helped pack the hearing room. And maybe the coal industry smelled some kind of smackdown coming, because at this week's hearing (unlike last week's), the industry front group FACES of Coal--yeah, those guys--sent a dozen or so people to the hearing for crowd support. 

As expected, there was more talk at this hearing about the EPA's decision to veto permits for the Spruce 1 Mine in Logan County, WV, and coal-friendly members continued to take EPA to task over its conductivity guidance. But this time, a couple of subcommittee members brought the voice of reason into the discussion.

Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) called out the Ohio Coal Association on its proposal for a complete "regulatory timeout" on mountaintop removal.  "You're not going to get no regulation," she explained.  And Subcommittee Ranking Member Tim Bishop (D-NY) took on coal industry claims that permits are being issued at a trickle. In fact, he clarified, of the 140 pending permits the Obama administration inherited from the second Bush administration, more than 50 have been approved and none have been outright denied.

For those of you who enjoy such things (and you know who you are), you can see video of the full hearing at the committee's website. Be sure to watch Rep. Laura Richardson call out the Ohio Coal Association at 1:23:00, and Rep. Bishop's reality check on the myth of the administration "war on coal" at 0:45:00.

You can also watch Rep. Don Young (R-AK) repeatedly interrupt and raise his voice at Ms. Stoner at 2:03:58.

So, you may be asking: what's the follow-up to these two carefully staged hearings? This level of attention on mountaintop removal and EPA signals that we can certainly expect continued legislative attacks on the agency's existing authority to address mountaintop removal under the Clean Water Act. 

That's the coal industry's follow-up assignment. Here's yours. EPA needs to be able to do its job to protect people from mining pollution. And more than that, the agency should have stronger tools to end this assault on Appalachia. Tell the president you appreciate EPA's work on mountaintop removal and want the agency to do more by taking action here.

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Harry BryantMay 16 2011 09:15 AM

After the totally one sided first session in which pro-coal people, witnesses and Representatives, seemed one minded in favor of profits over the environment, I was very concerned that the second session would be a repeat. Fortunately, I was wrong. Ms. Stoner did an excellent job of presenting the agency's case of human health and environmental preservation. I was surprised and pleased that Reps. Richardson and Bishop (both Democrats) showed support. I was embarrassed by Young's tirade, but I thought Ms. Stoner handled it as well as she could by not getting in a screaming match with him... certainly not her style. In fact in a sense Young's attitude and actions may have done more against pro-coal forces than for them. It appeared the Young came into the session just long enough to deliver his insult and then left. Further reinforcing his narrow mindedness by not even listening to what Ms. Stoner had to say.

Overall, given the make up of the sub-committee and the dominant position of the Republican party in the House, I was pleased with the outcome... net zero. I have to question what will be the result of these sessions. In my mind the need for law preventing valley fills is still at the top of the list of priorities. Will this happen in our lifetime?... I doubt it.

What is a real shame is that we have to take these circuitous paths to prevent a practice that is so blatantly destructive to the beauty of our mountains. In my world we would simply say it's against the law to blow up mountains.

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