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

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EPA Decision May Predict Future of Mountaintop Mining
Monday, September 13, 2010

CONTACTS:
Amanda Starbuck, 415 203 9952
Nell Greenberg, 510-847-9777

Hi-res photos & Video B-Roll
Follow @dirtyenergy for live twitter updates of today’s event

WASHINGTON— Today, 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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Notes to Editor

For more information on the EPA’s decision about the Spruce mine permit: http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2009/10/16/huge-mtr-news-epa-moves...

For background on EPA guidelines and conductivity levels:

The new EPA guidelines were designed to gauge the health of nearby streams based on their levels of conductivity, which is an indicator of water’s purity. The runoff from Appalachian mines contains toxins like magnesium, sulfate, bicarbonate, and potassium — all ions that raise conductivity levels. The higher the conductivity, the tougher it is for aquatic life to survive.

EPA is warning that water pollution from these mining operations dangerously increases the electrical conductivity of streams. Under the guidelines, the EPA believes any mining proposals with predicted conductivity levels of 300 or below is generally okay. Anything above 500 is considered by EPA “to be associated with impacts that may rise to the level of exceedances of narrative state water quality standards.”

There is a plan for monitoring water quality that involves 2 thresholds. Should bi-monthly testing show conductivity levels of about 300 then the "adaptive management plan" kicks in. The second threshold is when levels exceed 500 at which point "chemical improvements to the watershed" will be made. Should water quality be in exceedence of 500 a subsequent valley fill would not be allowed to be constructed. The EPA acknowledges that conductivity levels at the left fork of Pine Creek are already approaching 500 S/cm.

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Rainforest Action Network runs hard-hitting campaigns to break North America’s fossil fuels addiction, protect endangered forests and Indigenous rights, and stop destructive investments around the world through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action. For more information, please visit: www.ran.org

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