Friday, June 08, 2012

Coal supporters confront EPA in Central Appalachia

Industry supporters, left, confront mining
foes and state official between hearings.
(Photo by Chris Anderson)
This week marked the first time that members of the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration visited Eastern Kentucky for an open, public forum, reports Chris Anderson of the Appalachian News Express in his story about two EPA hearings on surface-mining permits.

Yesterday was a chance for hundreds of people in the Central Appalachian coalfield "to be heard by a government agency that many feel is attacking their way of life," Anderson writes. EPA had announced its plan to veto 36 surface mining permits in the region, on grounds that they would cause too much water pollution. The meetings to discuss the government's controversial stance drew members of both sides of the mountaintop-removal coal mining debate, with Anderson reporting that those in support of mining far outnumbered those against it.

Miners spoke passionately about jobs and said President Obama was trying to ruin their livelihoods. Mine operators, like Don Gibson of Arch Coal, urged the meeting's participants to make their voices heard in November. Ama Bentley, an employee of Appalachian States Analytical Laboratory, argued that regional water quality is actually improved by coal mining in some places, and she and others said more harm is done by lack of proper sewerage.

Anderson notes that "a handful of environmental activists . . . spoke in favor of the EPA’s blocking of the issuance of the permits." They included Matt Wasson of the Appalachian Voices group, who countered pro-industry arguments about jobs by noting Appalachian coal jobs have actually increased since 2009. He said the coal industry's troubles are not the doing of EPA, but factors such the industry’s inability to compete with cheap natural-gas prices. "He also blasted Eastern Kentucky leaders for failing to expand the region’s economy."

The later the evening got, the less civil was the discourse. Anderson reports that "Roger Warton, who claimed to represent several pro-coal groups from West Virginia, told the EPA officials that those in attendance at the meeting were just as adamant about 'whipping somebody’s butt' as the soldiers who stormed beaches on D-Day in World War II. He also alluded to the possibility that the EPA officials would not be allowed to leave Charleston, W.Va., if they traveled there to fly out of the region." (Anderson's story is behind a paywall.)

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