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Press Room:  For Immediate Release 
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June 25, 2009
Contact: Oliver Bernstein,, 512.289.8618

Sierra Club Applauds Senate Inquiry into Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Rule Changes, Tough Enforcement Needed to Protect Communities

Statement of Mary Anne Hitt, Deputy Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, in advance of today's U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife hearing on water quality impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia:

"We are very thankful that the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife is holding this landmark hearing to review mountaintop removal coal mining practices and the impact that this destructive form of coal mining has on our nation’s waterways. We hope that this hearing will lead to federal action to end the practices that have left Appalachian communities with contaminated drinking water, increased flooding, and the loss of streams once used for swimming and fishing.

"To date, mountaintop removal operations have buried close to 2,000 miles of streams with coal mining waste. Scientists have long pointed out that once these streams are buried and natural areas destroyed, they will never fully recover. In addition, a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study found that burying streams with mining waste has serious consequences for areas downstream including substantial damage to aquatic life.

"If left unchecked, the EPA estimates that mountaintop removal is poised to destroy an area the size of Delaware by 2010. The Obama administration has recently taken important steps to reign in the reckless mining practices of the last several decades. The administration’s plans, including increased oversight, enforcement, and public involvement in the permitting process, are necessary and unprecedented steps forward. However, these new measures alone are not enough to bring long-term relief to the Appalachian region.

"With the introduction of S. 696, The Appalachian Restoration Act, Senator Cardin and Senator Alexander acknowledge the urgent need to restore the original intent of the Clean Water Act by prohibiting coal mining waste from being dumped into streams. Using waste material to fill waterways was prohibited by the Clean Water Act until a 2002 Bush administration rule change. By changing the so-called ‘Fill Rule,’ the Bush administration opened waters throughout Appalachia, and across the country, to serve as potential dumping grounds for heavy industry. Now it will take federal action to close this dangerous loophole and protect waters from mining waste.

"The Senate has shown leadership in investigating the plight of Appalachian waterways and communities. Congress enacted the Clean Water Act in 1972 ‘to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity’ of the waters of the United States. We now call on Congress to pass legislation to end the practice of disposing of mining waste in our nation’s waterways, as the Clean Water Act originally intended."

Mountaintop removal coal mining is the most destructive method of coal extraction, in which explosives dislodge the top portion of a mountain to reach the coal that lays up to 1,000 feet below the surface. Massive machinery then extracts the coal. The rock and debris that are left over are dumped into the valleys below, burying streams. With staff on the ground in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee, the Sierra Club works closely with the communities impacted by mountaintop removal coal mining. Visit to see how much is still at risk in Appalachia.


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