Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Congress Signs on to Protect Tennessee


WASHINGTON, DC and APPALACHIA — The Congressional effort to end mountaintop removal coal mining cleared a major landmark today, with over 100 Members of Congress signed on as co-sponsors to the Clean Water Protection Act ( H.R. 2169). The milestone comes as the Bush Administration is accepting comments on a rulemaking to expand and enshrine the highly destructive practice.

Advocates for the mountains and coalfield residents charge that mountaintop removal coal mining tears apart communities, poisons water supplies, pollutes the air and destroys our nation's natural heritage – while only making the climate crisis worse.

"There is momentum growing to end mountaintop removal once and for all, and today's record show of support from Congress should change the debate," said Mary Anne Hitt, Executive Director of Appalachian Voices, which brings people together to solve the environmental problems facing the central and southern Appalachian Mountains. "For too long politicians have been able to write off mountaintop removal as a regional issue – but we see today that it's a national disgrace. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) have shown extraordinary leadership on this issue, and we thank them."

"I'm excited to hear that we already have over 100 co-sponsors signed onto the Clean Water Protection Act," said Carl Shoupe, a retired coal miner from Harlan County, Kentucky, and a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. "Thank God people from across the country are learning about mountaintop removal and care enough to help us here in the mountains. Where I live at the foot of Black Mountain, we still have some of the best water in the country, but we're having to fight to protect it from being destroyed by coal mining. If we can't protect
our water, we'll all have to leave our homes." said Shoupe.

"Headwater streams are the lifeblood of our mountains and the people who live in generations old communities along those streams. Millions of tons of waste rock from coal mining have already buried hundreds of miles of those precious waters, literally choking to death untold numbers of once thriving communities," said Cindy Rank, Mining Committee Chair, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. "We are ever grateful for the support of the far-sighted members of Congress who are reaffirming the goals of the Clean Water Act by their support of the Clean Water Protection Act."

"We are encouraged by the willingness of members of Congress to exercise the public trust over the waters of the United States," said Landon Medley, coalfield resident and member of Tennessee-based Save Our Cumberland Mountains. "A current threat that flies in the face of this encouraging news, however, is the Bush Administration's recent attempt to weaken federal water quality standards and enshrine mountaintop removal through a 'stream buffer' rule proposal. As a citizen of the coalfields who understands the value of our mountains and watersheds, I thank these courageous members of congress for supporting the Clean Water Protection Act, and call upon these members to oppose the administration's stream buffer rule proposal."

"We are so glad that Congress is responding to the people's demand for an end to this brutal and illegal form of coal mining," said Vivian Stockman, of the Huntington, W.Va.-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. The group organizes community members who are directly impacted by mountaintop removal. "The co-sponsors are obviously as upset as the majority of American people about the Bush administration's intent to let the coal industry do whatever it wants to Appalachia."
"We are very pleased that these members of Congress recognize Appalachian communities' value and the need to protect them with the Clean Water Protection Act," said Vernon Haltom of Whitesville, W.Va.-based Coal River Mountain Watch, which works to protect communities from mountaintop removal and to improve the area's quality of life. "Regulatory and permitting agencies have been sacrificing Appalachia in their reckless extraction of a non-renewable, polluting resource while eliminating the valuable resources necessary for long-term sustainability. This Act helps prevent American streams from becoming waste dumps."
"Our sincere thanks go to Rep. Pallone and Rep. Shays for their visionary leadership in recognizing that the protection of our watersheds knows no geographic nor political boundaries," said Kathy Selvage, Vice President of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, a community organization in the Virginia coalfields. "Our water is a national resource to be treasured by all and we must all protect it. I am most proud of the more than 100 members of Congress who recognize that. Now their courage will be tested again by the Bush Administration's attempt to facilitate even more destruction in the Appalachian region's watersheds by the new proposed buffer zone rule change."

The effort to end mountaintop removal has been gaining steam over the past year. In May, the Second Annual Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington brought over 100 volunteers from 19 states to D.C. They met with more than 100 congressional offices and had 20 face-to-face meetings with Members of Congress – and in the week following 16 new co-sponsors signed onto the Clean Water Protection Act ( H.R. 2169). Last year, the 109th Congress ended with 77 co-sponsors, a then-record. This year, the 100 co-sponsor milestone comes with over a year to go in the 110th Congress.

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