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Black Waters No More

New America Media, Commentary, Jeff Biggers Posted: Mar 06, 2009

Editors note: A record number of congressional members reintroduced the Clean Water Protection Act. The bill aims to overturn a 2002 Bush administration rule that allowed coal companies to blast hundreds of mountaintops, creating an ecological disaster, environmentalists contend. Jeff Biggers is the author of The United States of Appalachia, and the forthcoming, Reckoning on Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (The Nation/Basic Books).

It's official: The first shot has been fired in the legislative battle to end the devastating practice of mountaintop removal mining in central Appalachia.

With the quickly growing and extraordinary nationwide support of over 100 co-sponsors, , John Yarmuth (D-KY) joined Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Dave Reichert (R-WA) in reintroducing the Clean Water Protection Act on March 4.

The Clean Water Protection Act challenges the executive rule change by the Bush administration to redefine fill material in the Clean Water Act, which has since allowed coal companies to blast hundreds of mountains to bits, dump millions of tons of excess spoil into nearby valleys, and bury hundreds of miles of streams. An estimated 1,200 miles of waterways have been destroyed by this extreme mining process.

The end result: Toxic black waters and poisoned aquifers that have denied people in the coalfields the basic right of a glass of clean water.

The timing couldnt be more urgent: On the heels of a 4th U.S. Circuit Court decision that overturned greater environmental review of mountaintop removal actions by coal companies, scores of mining permits have flooded the gates of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this month.

Congress meant for the Clean Water Act to protect our nation's water resources; the administrative rule change endangers those resources, said Rep. Pallone, the author of the legislation. The dangerous precedent set by the Bush Administration's rule change undermines the Clean Water Act.

The breakthrough role of Yarmuth, a Democrat from Louisville, has Kentuckians on their feet with applause.

I am so thankful that one of Kentucky's politicians is stepping forward and showing true moral courage, said bestselling author Silas House. It's just a shame that the act isn't receiving support from Eastern Kentucky's politicians, where the water is most endangered. They should be ashamed that Yarmuth is having to do their job and his, too.

George Brosi, a long-time Appalachian activist from Berea, Kentucky, also praised the co-sponsorship of Rep. Ben Chandler from central Kentucky: They are dramatically demonstrating that those who live downstream from the scourge of mountain top removal mining must protect their water supply even if it means standing up to the most rich and powerful private interest in their state the coal industry.

Unlike some other members of this state, Yarmuth isn't being cowed by the coal industry," noted Stephanie Pistello, an eastern Kentucky native and legislative associate for Appalachian Voices in Washington, D.C. He understands the devastation being wrought upon his state by this horrific method of mining. He is showing the courage to do what's right for the people of our great state and nation.

Pistello added that Lexington's consumption of high-burning coal fuel was singled out recently by a Brookings Institution study that ranked it as one of the cities with the worst carbon footprints in the nation.

As blasting continues to shatter peace and prosperity in the coalfields of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee today, anti-mountaintop removal advocates continue to make their appeal to President Barack Obama, who lambasted the current practice at a 2007 campaign rally in Lexington.

To see if your member of Congress has signed on as a co-sponsor, go to: http://www.theallianceforappalachia.org/cwpa-cosponsors

For more information on today's events on the floor of Congress, go to www.TheAllianceForAppalachia.org.

Check out on YouTube: Black waters, black waters, no more in my land," the beloved Kentucky folk singer Jean Ritchie sings in her classic ballad against strip-mining: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFVdp1KJiqM

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