October 5, 2009
Contact: Virginia Cramer, Sierra Club, (804) 225-9113x102
Groups Charge that Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Disproportionately Impacts Low-Income Americans
Washington, D.C.: Today a coalition of Appalachian residents and community organizations submitted a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) citing the need for the agency to address the environmental justice tragedy of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. The petition urges EPA to incorporate environmental justice considerations into its review of pending applications for mountaintop removal coal mining permits, among other actions. The petition outlines how EPA has the responsibility under Executive Order 12898 to address the environmental justice impacts of mountaintop removal mining, and has the authority under the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other laws, to do so.
"The worst polluters have always targeted the communities least able to resist their abuses and protect their homes and families," said Vernon Haltom of Coal River Mountain Watch. "In Appalachia, coal companies are oppressing residents while they suck the wealth out of communities."
On September 30, 2009, EPA announced that it is undertaking a coordinated review of 79 applications for mountaintop removal mining permits in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Today's petition asserts that these, and all future applications for mountaintop removal coal mining permits, should be scrutinized by EPA to identify and address any disparate impacts the proposed mining may have on vulnerable, economically disadvantaged communities. The petition also asks EPA to create an environmental justice plan and strategy for the region, and to ensure a meaningful opportunity for public participation by the Appalachian coalfield communities in each individual permit review and in EPA’s overall permit review process.
"The people of the Appalachian coal fields are among the nation’s poorest. Many of us struggle with persistent poverty and sub-standard housing. To impose the impacts of coal on our already vulnerable population is an environmental justice issue that our nation has conveniently ignored for too long. We are forced to live with the ravaged landscape, polluted air, flooding and contaminated water. Clean water is a basic human right and it’s been taken from us," said Teri Blanton of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
"The Appalachian people have long suffered unduly for the sacrifices we have made to fuel this nation and its progress," said Kathy Selvage of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. "I believe if the EPA folks visited in the Appalachian region for awhile, they would find themselves standing in the West Wing advocating for an end to mountaintop removal coal mining immediately to help us save our ancient mountains and the place we call home."
View the petition, filed by groups including: Coal River Mountain Watch, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC), Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Program, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), and the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment.
"The communities of Appalachia have suffered appalling damage from mountaintop removal mining because of the remoteness of the region and the poverty of the people living here. It is past time to acknowledge the horrendous impacts of all forms of mountaintop removal mining on the people of Appalachia. Our communities have struggled long enough. We need action now," said Cathie Bird, coalfield resident and member of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment
"We urge the EPA to scrutinize all mountaintop removal mining permits through the lens of environmental justice," said Janet Keating, Executive Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, based in Huntington, WV. "People living with mountaintop removal are paying too high of a price for the nation’s so-called 'cheap' energy, including damage to their health and the contamination of their water."
Due to its vital charge under Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” the EPA must take immediate steps to recognize and address the environmental justice effects of mountaintop removal mining, a destructive practice that is occurring at a high and destructive rate and only in the economically disadvantaged communities of Appalachia. The disproportionate environmental destruction from mountaintop removal clearly falls within the purview of the Executive Order.
"The environmental justice claims in this petition are not an afterthought," said Leslie Fields, Sierra Club's National Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Director. "Proper review of permits will only occur when the EPA abides by the environmental justice executive order and all other applicable laws. The affected communities in Appalachia deserve no less than full compliance and enforcement by the EPA."