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This diary is written by Jeff Biggers and posted with his permission. The only changes from his original article are that I added pictures and left out a few updates. Jeff is the "American Book Award-winning author of The United States of Appalachia, and In the Sierra Madre. His next book, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland, is forthcoming in the fall of 2009 (The Nation/Basic Books)."

"Mountaintop removal is a crime--and ought to be treated as a crime," Al Gore, April 28, 2008

"Mountaintop removal is a crime against local people, nature, our children, and our planet," Dr. James Hansen, NASA

The Washington Post headline this morning cut to this chase: "Obama is Right to Allow Mountaintop Removal Mining."


Only two days after the US Supreme Court reprimanded the West Virginia Supreme Court for making conflict of interest decisions from its Big Coal-financed justices, and one day after the WV Supreme Court upheld a decision to build a toxic coal silo on the playground of an elementary school, which sits under a 2.8 billion gallon toxic coal sludge pond that is being jeopardized by mountaintop removal blasting, the Obama administration has decided to "regulate" the crime of mountaintop removal.

In an extraordinary move to disregard a 38-year rap sheet of crimes of pollution, harassment and forced removal of some of our nation's oldest and most historic communities, and the destruction of over 500 mountains and 1.2 million acres of deciduous hardwood forests in our nation's carbon sink of Appalachia, the Obama administration will announce today that it has decided to "regulate" mountaintop removal mining operations, not abolish them.

All well-meaning intentions aside, if the Obama administration truly wanted to "enforce" mountaintop removal regulations and protect American watersheds, drinking water, and communities from catastrophic flooding and toxic blasting, it would simply reverse a 2002 Bush and dirty coal lobby manipulation of the Clean Water Act and restore the original definition of "fill" material to no longer include mining waste.

A growing number of Congress members understands this--and even conservatives like Sen. Lamar Alexander are now shepherding the Clean Water Protection Act. See:

Consider this: In West VIrginia, no less, the state Department of Environmental Protection is so widely denounced and inept that an alliance of citizens groups has recently called for the federal government to declare a state of emergency and take primacy over certain mining regulation issues.

Consider this: Over 3.5 million pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosives rip across the most diverse and oldest mountains in America--and rain down silica dust and heavy metals on residents--in West Virginia alone EVERY DAY.

Consider this: Mountaintop removal provides less than 5-7% percent of our national coal production, at a time when coal demand is down, and mountaintop removal coal could EASILY be replaced by energy efficiency, conservation, renewable energy sources or underground coal.

Consider this: Not one person in the Obama administration involved in this outrageous decision has ever set a foot on a mountaintop removal site.

Consider this: If mountaintop removal is a crime, as former Vice President Al Gore has stated, then President Barack Obama and his EPA, CEQ and Department of Interior administrators are co-conspirators in this crime. When President Barack Obama's staff turns on the lights to the Oval Office this morning, a signal will be sent from the Potomac Energy Company to the Chalk Point Generation Station, where the coal handling facility service of the power plant will shovel in coal strip-mined from mountains of West Virginia that have been clear cut, detonated with tons of explosives, and toppled into the valleys.

Today is a tragic day in Appalachia, because it affirms the reality that coalfield residents have been asked to sacrifice their lives and livelihoods for a "regulatory" mistake.

Just ask former President Jimmy Carter--who desperately needs to become involved in the coalfields now.

In the spring of 1977, President Carter addressed the American people in a televised speech on his proposed energy policy. Carter pulled no punches. He declared: "We must look back in history to understand our energy problem."

Let's look back on the history of mountaintop removal.

On August 3rd, 1977, surrounded in the White House Rose Garden by beleaguered coalfield residents and environmentalists who had waged a ten-year campaign to abolish strip-mining, President Carter signed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act with great fanfare. President Carter may have attempted to put on a good face, but he admitted to the 300 guests, according to the New York Times, "in many ways, this has been a disappointing effort." Calling it a "watered down" bill, Carter added, "I'm not completely satisfied with the legislation. I would prefer to have a stricter strip mining bill."

"The President's other main objection to the bill," wrote the New York Times, "is that it allows the mining companies to cut off the tops of Appalachian mountains to reach entire seams of coal."

Three decades later, President Carter's worst fears have been realized. Over 500 extraordinary mountains -- all of which would have easily been recognized as national monuments in other states -- have literally been blown to bits.

This failed mining policy has not only destroyed our nation's natural heritage; mountaintop removal has ripped out the roots of the Appalachian culture, and depopulated and left historic mountain communities in poverty and ruin.

"I am not here as a public official, but as a citizen of a troubled world who finds hope in a growing consensus that the generally accepted goals of society are peace, freedom, human rights, environmental quality, the alleviation of suffering, and the rule of law," Carter said in his 2002 Nobel Peace Prize lecture.

In the name of peace, human rights, environmental quality, the alleviation of suffering, and the rule of law, will Jimmy Carter speak now against this crime of mountaintop removal?

Will Al Gore speak now against this crime of mountaintop removal?

"Today's announcement by the Obama administration paves the way for the criminals that conduct mountaintop removal to continue their bombing assault and hillbilly removal campaign against the people of the Coal River Valley and Appalachian mountain communities," says Bo Webb, a Vietnam Vet, coal miner's son, and resident in Coal River Valley, West Virginia.

For the Obama administrators too busy to visit the coalfields, here's a clip of the reality of their decisions:

Originally posted to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse on Mon Jun 29, 2009 at 09:01 PM PDT.

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