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November 16, 2010

Contact: Virginia Cramer, 804-225-9113 x 102

Appalachian and National Organizations to West Virginia Governor Manchin: Stop Standing in the Way of Clean Water in Appalachia

Community groups oppose obstructionist lawsuit, demand clean water and healthy living conditions in West Virginia


Washington, D.C.: Today several Appalachian organizations filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit in defense of the U.S. Environment Protection Agency's (EPA) new Clean Water Act guidance and its interagency review process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). The lawsuit was filed by West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin on behalf of the state of West Virginia just before his election to the U.S. Senate.

The intervening groups -- all of which have members directly affected by mountaintop removal mining across Appalachia -- are the Sierra Club, Coal River Mountain Watch, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment. The Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment is representing the groups.

"Water is life," said Jim Sconyers, chair of Sierra Club’s West Virginia Chapter. "If the state continually abdicates its responsibility to protect us and our water, then I say thank goodness we have the EPA willing to enforce one of our most basic, and popular, laws -- the Clean Water Act."

The groups are intervening in this challenge because they believe that the state of West Virginia should not be able to stop federal government agencies from following one of the nation's cornerstone and longstanding laws, the Clean Water Act; from considering and using the best available science; or from protecting America's waters from destruction.

"It's time America faces up to what has been sacrificed for our cheap energy, and how human life has been affected here. We coalfield residents should be afforded the same protections as the rest of the nation," said Debbie Jarrell, assistant director of Coal River Mountain Watch.

At the heart of this legal challenge is an interagency review process that EPA and the Corps are conducting in partnership, along with a policy guidance issued by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in April 2010.  The interagency review and policy guidance aim to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act and to strengthen the role of science in reviewing applications for mountaintop removal coal mining permits. The guidance also provides scientific information to help regulators prevent irreversible damage to Appalachian watersheds at risk from mining.

On October 6, Governor Manchin (now Senator-Elect) announced that the state of West Virginia was filing suit against the EPA and the Army Corps.  The lawsuit attempts to block the EPA and the Corps from enforcing important existing Clean Water Act protections, including the consideration of important scientific information during the permitting process. The West Virginia case is similar to a case filed by the National Mining Association in Washington, D.C., where the same conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, have intervened in support of the agencies.

"Our state government is supposed to be looking out for our health and safety, but here in West Virginia it is clear that politics continues to trump science and common sense, and as a result laws meant to protect human health and the environment we depend on are routinely ignored," said Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "At least EPA is listening to the people and following the science, but it appears that our state politicians are still deaf."

"It's taken nearly twenty years of pleading, polite encouragement, legal actions that brought scientists and academic experts to focus on the impacts of these large mining operations, and untold numbers of articles, books, documentary films as well as thousands of hours of volunteer time on the part of community members impacted by this mining to finally bring about a fair evaluation of the impacts of mountaintop removal mining," said Cindy Rank, chair of the Mining Committee of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. "Now is not the time for West Virginia to turn its back on protecting the health of our valuable water resources or to challenge the authority of EPA to assist in that effort."

Background:
Mountaintop removal is a destructive form of coal mining, using explosives to blow up mountains and expose the coal under them. Coal companies then dump toxic rubble and waste over the side of the mountain into valleys below, polluting and permanently burying natural streams. More than 2,000 miles of streams have been buried by mountaintop removal coal mining to date, leading to long-term harm to the entire ecosystem, watershed, and local communities on which those streams depend.

For a copy of the motion please contact virginia.cramer@sierraclub.org.

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