Environmental Groups target W.Va. DEP over Mountaintop Removal Permitting

‘The People’s Foot’ rally cites adverse health impacts as well as environmental damage

By Michael M. Barrick

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Several environmental preservation groups are joining forces to hold a rally Monday, March 16 to call upon the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to quit issuing permits for Mountaintop Removal (MTR). The groups cite adverse public health impacts as well as environmental damage. The permitted rally will be held at the DEP headquarters at 601 57th St. SE in Charleston.

The rally, which is called “The People’s Foot,” is a challenge to West Virginians and others to symbolically put their foot down to further permitting for MTR.The-Peoples-Foot-SSP

Allen Johnson with Christians For The Mountains explained, “The West Virginia DEP issues permits for mining operations. Its mission is to promote a healthy environment. Plentiful scientific research points strongly to high correlations between mountaintop removal operations and significantly worse health indices in nearby communities. We are pressing West Virginia DEP to acknowledge the science and stop issuing MTR permits immediately. We are calling upon them to ‘Stop the poisoning of people!’”

Johnson said that the concept originated with the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Coalition, led by Bo Webb. In addition to Christians For The Mountains, sponsoring organizations include the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, and others.Sierra Club

The DEP is the state agency responsible for issuing permits to companies seeking to operate or expand MTR enterprises. Allen revealed, “Several of our groups have joined together to ask the United States Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation to strip West Virginia DEP of authority and take over permitting itself under existing provisions, as the West Virginia DEP is not doing their job to protect the public and our lands and waters and air from harmful pollution.”

Johnson explained, “Water pollution comes from the exposure of heavy-metal laden rock that during blasting is exposed to water and then leaches the heavy metals into the streams. This can be measured by conductivity meters. High concentrations of Selenium, arsenic, magnesium, and others are carcinogenic as well as detrimental to the food chain in water systems. But perhaps an even more insidious pollutant is that of ultra-fine air particulates, sub-micron, smaller by far than the EPA standards of 2.5 and 10 microns.” He explained that the explosions resulting from the MTR process create “…very high concentrations of ultrafines, made up of silica, aluminum compounds, and blasting materials. These are absorbed through the lungs and into the circulatory system, including the placenta barrier, and are highly toxic for those living in these communities.”

Johnson explained his group’s involvement, sharing, “Isaiah 6:3 in the Bible says that ‘the whole Earth is filled with God’s glory.’ Numerous other scriptures can be cited, along with thousands of years of theology. Simply speaking, to degrade God’s handiwork in a permanent way is sin. Pollution of water, air, and stunting the fruitfulness – or sustainable viability – of earth is out of God’s order for creation. Humans are given the responsibility to nurture and protect creation, and in so doing to gain the privilege of sustenance, but within the boundaries of not assuming hubris and self-idolatry, which we are warned against in Genesis 2:15-17.”

Explaining the purpose of the rally, Johnson said, “We want to inspire, motivate, and equip people to really push for justice on this issue. That public policymakers and regulatory organizations would have such contempt upon their citizenry to permit, even aid and abet, their poisoning, is irresponsible and criminal. We are smoking them out from behind the coal industry’s smokescreens and keeping the lights on.”

The organizations also want rally participants to educate others. “We want them to push for the national Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, since state policymakers are hip-strapped to the coal industry. We are at a time when people power must rise up strongly all across the nation to break the neck – metaphorically – of moneyed power that is breaking apart our democracy and fleecing the treasury and destroying the future viability of our planet.” He continued, “Pollution simply cannot be acceptable. Full-cost accounting – that is, honest accounting of negative externalities – shows that the coal industry costs more in net sum that it adds.”

He added, “We’re going to pressure the West Virginia DEP on health and MTR. So far they and almost all legislators and congressional representatives refuse to even publicly acknowledge the two dozen peer-reviewed studies even exist. We are going to relentlessly push them.”

Johnson pointed out also that the message about MTR is shifting. “The message on MTR has changed since it first hit the media 15 or so years ago. Then it was about how ugly MTR is, how destructive it is to the ecology. Then we had no research on human health. Now we do and it’s devastating. So we are shifting MTR focus from an environmental justice issue to a health issue.”

Not mincing words, Johnson asserted. “The West Virginia DEP is a fraud if it does not address its most important mandate to protect the health of people from environmental pollution.”

He added, though, “On the other hand, we must give it room to change its heart, so to speak. So our event will be firm but civil. We hold the moral high ground. We want to win the hearts and minds of our fellow citizenry in the face of ‘fear mongering’ propaganda that says our state is sunk without the coal industry.”

For those who are unable to make it to the rally, the groups anticipate having a video available for streaming or downloading. Also a ride share board has been set up online for those seeking transportation.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise business committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

The Appalachian Preservation Project is also handling planning for the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. Learn about it here. Johnson will be speaking at the conference.


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