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I don't get to brag on my fellow Kentuckians nearly as often as I would like. However, last week Representatives John Yarmuth and Ben Chandler stood up against Mountaintop Removal in sponsoring the Clean Water Protection Act. That's one reason to cheer. And they're not the only ones from the Bluegrass State trying to end the abominable practice of destroying for all time the grand mountains, their delicate ecosystems, and unique culture. From the (blue) grassroots to the halls of Congress, this looks like the time to finally halt MTR.

As one of many passionate supporters, film star Ashley Judd has signed on with the Sierra Club to help end -- that's end -- mountaintop removal mining. You can watch a video of Ashley addressing the issue here. But hurry back, because Ashley Judd has volunteered to spend the next hour live on the site, answering your questions about how we can finally save what remains of the beautiful Appalachians.

If you're only familiar with Ms. Judd from her film roles, you may not know that she's been a tough campaigner for many progressive causes. She's worked hard for pro-choice candidates and causes, been a global ambassador for the prevention of AIDS, and famously took on Sarah Palin while working with Defenders of Wildlife.

Today she's going to tackle Daily Kos. So welcome her into the community.

Joining Ashley today is Mary Anne Hitt of the Sierra Club. Mary Anne has been around Daily Kos for some time, though I've been instructed not to call her an "old hand." Don't miss the opportunity to direct questions her way if you want to know specifics of the Sierra Club's plans. Since I don't know Mary Anne's preferences in basketball (I've heard there are people who are not pulling for the UK Wildcats to pull off a miracle comeback, strange as that may seem) I've started her off with a question that's round-ball free.

Q: The Clean Water Protection Act has been reintroduced this year as H.R. 1310. Many look to this bill as a way to stop MTR, but there are some who see the wording in the CWPA as just as vague and prone to judicial interpretation as the portions of the Clean Water Act it replaces. Do you believe the CWPA is adequate to halt most mountaintop removal, or is there other legislation we should be supporting?

MAH: One of the challenges with mountaintop removal is that it is governed by a patchwork of laws - including the Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act - and a whole host of state and federal agencies. The Clean Water Protection Act is the only bill currently before Congress that would curtail mountaintop removal. It closes one of the biggest loopholes created by the Bush administration to facilitate mountaintop removal, and it is a justifiable priority for those who want to keep our mountains standing.

Q: Is the Sierra Club working with the Obama Administration to fight mountaintop removal coal mining?

MAH: On the campaign trail, President Obama pledged to address mountaintop removal by enforcing the Clean Water Act. This would be a tremendous step forward, as President Bush severely weakened clean water regulations that relate to mountaintop removal. So we are very optimistic that President Obama is going to take a fresh look at this issue and bring some common sense law and order back to the Appalachian coalfields.

Q: How does the issue of MTR fit into greater concerns with the effects of coal mining, including global warming?

MAH: Mountaintop removal is one more symptom of the consequences of our addiction to coal. From global warming to asthma attacks to the massive coal ash spill in Tennessee, more and more Americans are paying the costs of pollution from coal, costs which are not paid by the coal industry. If we don’t transition to truly clean forms of energy, these grim reminders are bound to keep coming.

Q: Does the recent 4th Circuit decision put extra pressure on resolving this issue quickly?

MAH: On February 13, the 4th Circuit Court in Richmond overturned a previous legal victory for community groups, which had resulted in a moratorium on permits to bury streams with mining waste. When that victory was overturned, the floodgates were opened on approximately 100 new permits to bury streams in WV, KY, and VA. It is now up to the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Council on Environmental Quality to prevent those permits from being issued, or a new wave of mountaintop removal will sweep over Appalachia before President Obama has time to act. Unfortunately, we just got word that the first new mining allowed by that 4th Circuit decision started today. So the need for federal action is urgent, and we encourage people to take action.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 02:00 PM PDT.

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