“But let justice roll down like the waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” – Isaiah 5:24
When Rep. Johnson (TX) ended her comment by asking why we were moving backwards and rolling back protections of drinking water most of the chamber thought it was a rhetorical question. But after receiving no answer she asked again, indicating that she really wanted an answer. Even after Rep. Brown (FL) raised the question for a third time there was still no one to directly comment on why we would be trying to roll back the major protections of the Clean Water Act.
Under H.R. 2018, the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, the EPA would lose the ability to revise old standards, make new standards, enforce existing standards that states were failing to enforce, and to veto permits that would threaten clean water in communities. Two misconceptions need to be cleared up. First of all, there’s nothing co-operative about this bill, it’s a transfer of power from the EPA to the states. Second, this bill will weaken the protection of our water sources, a critical component of God’s Creation.
Issues of clean water are inherently matters of justice. Water is necessary to human survival; and rolling back the protection of sources of drinking water should be vehemently opposed. H.R. 2018 risks seriously jeopardizing the health and safety of the people of Appalachia.
For the Representatives from Appalachia it is largely about the EPA’s recent veto of a permit for Spruce Mine no. 1. This isn’t a secret or speculation on my part; it was openly admitted by Rep. Rahall (WV) and Rep. Gibbs (OH) that the recent EPA veto of a large mountaintop mining project was part of the impetus behind this bill, which has been called the “rein in the EPA bill” by supporters. Though couched in the language of federalism this bill exists because supporters believe the EPA has ‘overreached.’ If we at least start from there, we can have an honest argument about EPA policies.
So, here’s why the EPA vetoed the Spruce Mine Permit. The mining operation would have:
• Disposed of 110 million cubic yards of coal mine waste into streams.
• Buried more than six miles of high-quality streams in Logan County, West Virginia with millions of tons of mining waste from the dynamiting of more than 2,200 acres of mountains and forestlands.
• Polluted downstream waters as a result of burying these streams, which will lead to unhealthy levels of salinity and toxic levels of selenium that turn fresh water into salty water. The resulting waste that then fills valleys and streams can significantly compromise water quality, often causing permanent damage to ecosystems and streams.
• Caused downstream watershed degradation that will kill wildlife, impact birdlife, reduce habitat value, and increase susceptibility to toxic algal blooms.
• Inadequately mitigated for the mine’s environmental impacts by not replacing streams being buried, and attempting to use stormwater ditches as compensation for natural stream losses.
On the same day that H.R. 2018 was referred favorably to the house, a study came out about the broader impacts of mountaintop removal. The study by Dr. Melissa Ahern at Washington State University and Dr. Michael Hendryx and other researchers at West Virginia University found, “that places where the environment – the earth, air and water – has undergone the greatest disturbance from mining are also the places where birth defect rates are the highest,” said Dr. Ahern. “This is evidence that mountaintop mining practices may cause health impacts on people living in those areas, before they are even born.”
This report is the latest in a long line of peer-reviewed journal articles indicating that mountaintop removal has devastating impacts on the local community.
An entire region is being sacrificed for cheap energy, and the House of Representatives is trying to roll back what little protection there is for the people who live in areas where God’s Creation is being exploited for economic gain. In the timeless words of Isaiah, “The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?” (Isaiah 3:14-15).
The spoil of the poor is in all of our houses in the form of cheap, convenient electricity. Maria Gunnoe of Boone County, WV made a short statement after the study was released: “Living at the toe of a mountaintop removal site, the impacts were clear to me years ago. This study confirms we have a problem. Yet in states like West Virginia and Kentucky our governors and federal legislators are protecting the coal industry at any cost. Shame on them for shutting us out of decisions that mean the life or death of our communities. No one is going to tell me that blowing up mountains over my home is good for me.”