Action Alert: Revoke The Permits On Coal River Mountain

 

Coal River Mountain in southern West Virginia is the last major mountain in the Coal River watershed that has not been destroyed by mountaintop removal (MTR) mining. MTR is a destructive mining practice in which the top 800 to 1000 feet of a mountain is blasted away to get at the coal underneath; the waste rock is dumped into nearby valleys. MTR has caused severe problems for the communities that have lived in these mountains for generations – mining blasts cause serious damage to homes, towns have been wiped out by severe floods, streams and rivers have been contaminated with toxic heavy metals, and people have lost access to family cemeteries on the mountains. Recent public health studies have also shown the adverse health impacts from living in the midst of the air and water pollution caused by coal mining operations – residents of coal mining communities in southern West Virginia have a higher risk of cancer, even accounting for other factors like smoking.

Massey Energy is now planning to mine Coal River Mountain, largely using mountaintop removal methods. There are currently two approved mining permits and two pending permits on the mountain that, in total, cover nearly 5400 acres of the mountain. Blasting and mining have already started on the Bee Tree permit. Residents are particularly concerned that blasting is occurring within 2000 feet of a coal slurry impoundment – an earthen dam that is holding back 5.5 billion gallons of toxic liquid coal waste.

Massey Energy has one of the worst environmental and safety records of any coal operator in Appalachia. Between 2000 and 2006, for example, Massey violated the Clean Water Act 4500 times – according to its own, self-reported data. The communities around Coal River Mountain know that Massey will not mine according to the law – and that the West Virginia Department of Environnmental Protection will not seriously enforce the law.

This summer, the Bee Tree permit – the only active permit so far – is up for renewal. The federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) needs to step in and require the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to seriously study the impact of mountaintop removal mining on Coal River Mountain, rather than automatically renewing the permit. Please ask the OSMRE and DEP to take community concerns seriously and not renew the Bee Tree permit.

Send your letter to the Charleston, WV Field Office of OSMRE:
Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement
1027 Virginia Street East
Charleston, WV 25301
chfo@osmre.gov
And cc the WV Department of Environmental Protection:
Director Randy Huffman
601 57th Street SE
Charleston, WV 25304
Randy.C.Huffman@wv.gov

Or submit comments online

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Charleston Field Office,

I am writing to express my concerns over the Bee Tree permit (S301004), which is coming up for renewal by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection this summer. This permit is one of the mountaintop removal permits on Coal River Mountain, the last major mountain of the Coal River watershed that has not been significantly impacted by mountaintop removal mining. Permits for mountaintop removal on Coal River Mountain were issued despite strong opposition from the local community and despite the fact that this watershed has already been seriously degraded by mining.

Mountaintop removal mining is a serious environmental injustice that disproportionately impacts rural, working class communities that live around these mining operations. A recent study found that residents of counties impacted by mountaintop removal mining suffer from poorer health even compared to counties that have other types of coal mining (K. Zullig and M. Hendryx, “Health-related quality of life among central Appalachian residents in mountaintop mining counties,” American Journal of Public Health, 101(5): 848-853, 2011). Residents near Coal River Mountain are especially concerned about the impact that mountaintop removal mining will have on their communities: damage to homes from blasting, flooding, water contamination, and loss of access to the mountain. They are also concerned about the current blasting on the Bee Tree permit, which is within 2000 feet of the Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment.

I am also concerned that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is considering renewing a permit for a company that has an established track record of violating the law. Massey Energy has a long history of illegally discharging pollution into waterways, mining outside of their permit boundaries, illegal blasting, and other violations of their permits. For example, Massey violated the Clean Water Act 4,500 times between 2000 and 2006.

I urge the OSMRE to use its new authority under Directive INE-35 to intervene in the permit renewal if the WVDEP tries to renew the Bee Tree permit without a thorough review of citizen and technical concerns regarding the impacts of mining Coal River Mountain on the local communities and watershed.

Sincerely,