OVEC: Hope is alive in the mountains and valleys of Appalachia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                  March 24, 2009
Contact: Chuck Nelson 304- 34-0399; Vivian Stockman 304-360-1979 or 304-927-3265

Hope is alive in the mountains and valleys of  Appalachia
Obama Administration halts mountaintop removal permits for further review

Citizens from across Appalachia strongly applauded the EPA’s decision to  deny permits for two mountaintop removal coal mining operations — and put hundreds more mountaintop coal-mining permits under review until the agency can evaluate the impact of mountaintop removal coal mining on the nation’s streams and wetlands.
During the campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama promised to end mountaintop removal, and to make protecting Appalachian streams a top priority of his EPA. Today, the Obama Administration and the EPA have taken a critical first step which will protect the economy, environment and energy future of Appalachia.

“This decision illustrates a dramatic departure from the energy policies that are destroying the mountains, the culture, the rivers and forests of Appalachia and our most deeply held American values,” said Bobby Kennedy Jr, President of the Waterkeeper Alliance.  “By this decision, President Obama signals our embarking on a new energy future that promises wholesome, dignified, prosperous and healthy communities that treasure our national resources.”

Chuck Nelson, a retired deep miner and board member of the Huntington, W.Va.-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition said, “After being stepped on by the Bush Administration for eight years, I hope this burden’s about to be lifted up off our community. I’ve been seeing people suffering, and watched the mountains literally coming down on top of people, and this decision couldn’t have come at a better time to save my river and save these mountains.”

Mountaintop removal is preferred by coal companies because it employs fewer workers. Coal mining once provided over 120,000 jobs in West Virginia alone, but that number has dropped to less than 15,000. Instead of bringing wealth to the region, areas of high strip-mining and mountaintop removal have remained some of the most impoverished counties in the United States.

At a time when the Obama Administration is so clearly focused on rebuilding the economy, this decision creates the perfect opportunity to jumpstart the economy of the region in a way that is environmentally sound and sustainable for this and future generations in Appalachia.

“Not only does mountaintop removal coal mining destroy mountains, it also destroys the economic potential of Appalachia,” said Dr. Matthew Wasson, Director of Programs for the environmental non-profit organization Appalachian Voices. “This decision rekindles hope for a new economy in Appalachia built around green jobs and renewable energy.”

Carl Shoupe, a retired coal miner and member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth in Harlan County, KY said, “We finally have an administration in place that uses scientific reasoning to make decisions instead of ideology. We fought for this for years–I hope the EPA comes through and permanently stops the permits in our community.”

Appalachia is rich with alternative energy potential and green job opportunities in many places which were slated to be blasted, such as Coal River Mountain in West Virginia. A recent study has shown that more jobs, more energy, and more tax income for the surrounding communities by can be created by harnessing the wind potential of Coal River Mountain, rather than blasting the top off the mountain and shoving the waste directly into streams.

“If the EPA bases their conclusions on science, logic, common sense, and human decency, they will abolish mountaintop removal.  If they base their conclusions on coal industry lobbyists’ influence, they will do a disservice to the citizens.  The EPA needs to include the citizens most directly impacted by mountaintop removal in making their determination and not rely upon dirty coal industry pressure,” said Vernon Haltom of Coal River Mountain Watch.

Rick Handshoe, a KFTC member of Hueysville, KY said, “I was hoping Obama would take action in the first 100 days. It’s a victory that they are even looking at the impacts of these valley fills.  There are nine existing valley fill permits in my neighborhood and three more valley fill permits proposed with a mile radius.”

Both a majority of the American people and Appalachian voters oppose mountaintop removal, and the citizen groups fighting to end mountaintop removal applaud President Obama’s decision to listen to the American people. Indeed, this important reversal of these dangerous Bush Administration policies is truly change we can believe in.

For photos of mountaintop removal, see the photo galleries at www.ohvec.org.