Monday, July 28, 2008

After air views of strip mining, congressman with purse strings says it may need to be reined in

Two Democratic congressmen who flew over large-scale surface coal mines in southeastern Kentucky said they were surprised at the extent of the excavations, and the more powerful representative said the practice might need to be reined in.

“The amount of land that has been mined was quite substantial,” Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington state said moments after his flight with Rep. Ben Chandler of Kentucky's Bluegrass region. Dicks said the mining, which can include mountaintop removal, has much more impact than timber cutting. “In our state we have very large clear-cuts and these were of even greater magnitude than those,” he told Cassondra Kirby-Mullins of the Lexington Herald-Leader. “I do think the question of sustainability comes up and what the consequences or the impact of this is on the environment.”

Kirby noted, "Dicks chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees environmental matters, giving him power over the budget of the Office of Surface Mining. It is the first time a member of Congress in such a position has come to Kentucky to view large-scale surface mining and meet with opponents." A representative of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which opposes mountaintop removal, was on board, as were two OSM officials. Other KFTC members met with the congressmen after the flight.

Kirby also makes an important distinction often overlooked about mountaintop removal: "Opponents use the term to include other forms of surface mining such as area mining. That involves blasting away only part of the mountain but creates similar issues, including filling adjacent valleys and waterways with excess rock and dirt, which opponents argue damages the environment. The coal industry defends large-scale surface mining as the most economical way, the only way, at times, to recover some coal." (Read more)

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