EPA Guidance on Mountaintop Removal: Acceptable Birth Defects and Cancer Corridors in Appalachian Coalfields?

In the face of irrefutable evidence of a spiraling humanitarian crisis in the Appalachian coalfields, the beleaguered EPA has just issued non-binding "guidance" rules to maintain the devastating practice of mountaintop removal mining through an admittedly failed review process.

For Appalachian residents who live under the deadly fallout of EPA's decisions, state corruption and Big Coal's assault, the rules are akin to a prolonged death sentence -- and in effect, tacitly recognize birth defects and cancer corridors as acceptable collateral damage in the coalfields.

"This guideline falls far short of protecting the life and health of people living beneath and near mountaintop removal," said Appalachian leader Bo Webb. "There are only two solutions available that will protect life in mountaintop removal communities. One: Keep all materials on the permitted site including blasting dust. Two: The most logical -- abolish mountaintop removal. Anything else serves only as a guideline for a slower kill."

"The communities of Appalachia need our health and lives protected by abolishing mountaintop removal," added Vernon Haltom, Executive Director of Coal River Mountain Watch. "While this final guidance is a step in the right direction, Coal River Mountain Watch needs the EPA to take much stronger action. Unfortunately, the politicians entrusted to represent our best interests would rather shackle the only agency taking action to protect us."

After a 40-year rap sheet of coal industry crimes and circumvention of regulatory loopholes, and reliance on pathetically corrupt state agencies beholden to Big Coal interests, the once proud EPA that promised "to protect 95% of aquatic life and fresh water streams in central Appalachia" and defend the Clean Water Act and health of coalfield residents has succumbed to right-wing political and legal pressures.

The bottom line on the EPA's new milquetoast mountaintop removal guidance:

"This memorandum does not impose legally binding requirements and will not be implemented as binding in practice. It does not impose any obligations on private parties. Its goal is to clarify existing understandings and to improve and strengthen permit decision-making consistent with existing law..."

"Existing law" that has resulted, according to the EPA's own reports, in the "burial of headwater streams by valley fills causes permanent loss of ecosystems."

"Existing law" that has resulted in a mounting death toll, and indisputable evidence of widespread birth defects and cancer corridors.

And all for a paltry 5-8 percent of our national coal production.

"NOTHING but an outright moratorium, followed by an outright ban on mountaintop removal and its other surface mining cousins will address the tragedy unfolding minute by minute in Appalachia, as well as other areas of the nation," said Bob Kincaid, president of the Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia. "The EPA needs to understand this in the most visceral possible way. Everything else is the regulatory equivalent of whistling past a graveyard, and those graves are OURS."

As two nonviolent tree-sitters head into the third day of their protest on a Alpha Natural Resources strip-mining site in the Coal River Valley, Appalachian leaders and organizations have joined with other national groups, such as the Center for Biological Diversity, in launching a campaign for an immediate moratorium on all mountaintop removal operations until the Center for Disease Control and/or other federal regulatory agencies make a complete assessment of the spiraling health and human rights crisis related to mountaintop removal mining, especially as it pertains to birth defects and cancer corridors, and the Department of Justice makes a thorough investigation into any related criminal negligence or child abuse connected to mountaintop removal mining.