EPA Issues Final Guidance on Mountaintop Removal, Call for Stronger Guidance
Knoxville, Tenn. (July 21) - Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final guidance on conductivity standards for creeks and streams affected by Mountain Top Removal (MTR) coal mining in the mountains of Central Appalachia. Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) insists that a regulatory "guidance" does not carry the same weight as a rule, and as such cannot ensure full and adequate protection for the communities of Central Appalachia.
The final guidance excludes application of the conductivity benchmarks in Tennessee; limits the scope of the guidance to Kentucky and West Virginia.
"I understand the science-speak about why application of the benchmarks should be limited until more data is available," said Cathie Bird, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment. "Unfortunately, we already see excess selenium discharge and other problems in streams near large surface mines. I think people and nature in Tennessee might be better protected with a more precautionary 'bad-until-proven-otherwise' approach." Ms. Bird lives near the Zeb Mountain mine site where mine owner National Coal was found to be discharging toxic selenium pollution into Tennessee waterways, a clear violation of the Clean Water Act.
A more cautious approach may also be supported by a recent peer-reviewed study that found significantly higher rates of birth defects in mountaintop removal coal mining areas compared to non-mining areas in Appalachia.
"The link between mountaintop removal mining and birth defects in Appalachia is a good example of just how much families are forced to sacrifice so a few coal company owners can get richer," stated SOCM member Vicki Terry of Campbell County.
"This guidance leaves the interpretation and enforcement of the conductivity standards to the discretion and interpretation of the states. We've seen time and again that regional and state offices just aren't interested in protecting the people here-they are interested in protecting industry and profits," said Landon Medley, member of the SOCM E3 Committee (Energy, Ecology, and Environmental Justice).
SOCM has a long history of working to prevent destructive mining practices that harm Tennessee land and people. In 2010, SOCM joined the Sierra Club and Tennessee Clean Water Network in filing a complaint against National Coal Corporation, owner of the mountaintop removal mine site at Zeb Mountain, after toxic levels of selenium were found in Tennessee water sources near the mine site. SOCM members will continue to support efforts to protect Tennessee land and preserve the natural beauty of the state.
SOCM is a 39-year-old community organization working for social, economic and environmental justice issues.