Activists Stage Creative Demonstration at EPA Headquarters: Call for Agency to Veto Controversial Spruce Mine Permit

On Monday, activists with the Rainforest Action Network staged a creative demonstration at the EPA headquarters to compel the agency to veto the 2,278-acre Spruce mountaintop mine project in Blair, W.Va. In an effort to demonstrate the impact of the Spruce mine—the largest mountaintop mine project ever proposed—activists dumped 1,000 pounds of earth and rubble brought from Appalachia on to the EPA’s lawn. The message: “EPA: don’t let King Coal dump on Appalachia.” 

The demonstration comes just after the Obama administration announced that it would delay making a decision on whether to veto the Spruce mine project until late September. Fearful that pressure from the coal industry and coal state politicians may influence the administration’s decision during an election season, environmental activists and Appalachian residents are turning up the heat on the EPA. Later this month, activists plan to hold a thousand-plus person march and rally in DC to call on the administration to ban mountaintop removal entirely.   

With mountaintop removal becoming increasingly controversial, the Spruce 1 battle is being closely watched as a sign of the mining practice’s future. Many see the EPA’s decision on the Spruce mine as a bellweather, coming shortly after the administration announced strong new guidelines for the practice last April. Thus far, the EPA has asserted that the Spruce mine project would irrevocably damage streams and wildlife and violate the Clean Water Act.

“At issue here is not whether the Spruce mine would be bad for the environment or human health, because we know it would and the EPA has said it would,” said Amanda Starbuck from the Rainforest Action Network. “At issue is whether, during an election season, President Obama’s EPA will stand up to coal industry pressure and veto this horrific project.”

For decades, Appalachian residents have been decrying the impact of mountaintop removal coal mining—the practice of blowing up whole mountains (and dumping the toxic debris into nearby streams and valleys) to reach seams of coal. Environmentalists, leading scientists, congressional representatives and even late coal state Senator Byrd have all decried the mining practice.

“Spruce 1 is a test of whether the EPA is going to follow through with its promises to protect Appalachia’s mountains and drinking water from the irrevocable damage caused by mountaintop removal coal mining,” continued Starbuck.

A paper released in January 2009 by a dozen leading scientists in the journal Science concluded that mountaintop coal mining is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits all together. “The science is so overwhelming that the only conclusion that one can reach is that mountaintop mining needs to be stopped,” Margaret Palmer, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and the study’s lead author, told reporters.

Since 1992, nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been filled at a rate of 120 miles per year by surface mining practices.  A recent EPA study found elevated levels of highly toxic selenium in streams downstream from valley fills. These impairments are linked to contamination of surface water supplies and resulting health concerns, as well as widespread impacts to stream life in downstream rivers and streams.  Further, the estimated scale of deforestation from existing Appalachian surface mining operations is equivalent in size to the state of Delaware.

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