Mountain Hero: Saving the Appalachian Mountains (Video)

Categories: Nature

It’s been more than three years since mountaintop removal fighter and environmental hero Larry Gibson died, and the mountains that he fought so hard to protect are still being destroyed.

Right now is President Obama’s last chance to stop mountaintop removal mining and save the Appalachian Mountains.

Sunrise in the Great Smokey Mountains, Tennessee. The Stream Protection Rule will determine the level of environmental protections for streams and mountains in areas like Appalachia.

With only a few months left in office, the Obama administration is facing big decisions in what is likely to be one of its last major initiatives on coal mining, clean water and climate—the Stream Protection Rule. The rule is an overhaul and update of the environmental standards for coal mining, including mountaintop removal mining, an extremely destructive practice that is flattening Appalachia. Global coal prices are low, so the pace is somewhat slower than usual, but the destruction continues. Since 1980, mountaintop removal has flattened about 500 mountains and destroyed 2,000 miles of streams.

The new rule will decide whether this destruction should continue unabated. It is an opportunity for the Obama administration to put a stop to the worst practices of the coal industry.

The proposed rule, released in July, gets us part of the way there. It recognizes the serious environmental problems caused by surface mining in Appalachia and other parts of the country, and that the current environmental standards aren’t adequately protecting people or the environment. It provides for better environmental assessment and monitoring, and requires more effective reclamation techniques, such as planting more native trees after mining is completed. It also imposes more financial accountability, making it harder for companies to earn a profit by wrecking the environment and then hiding behind bankruptcy to avoid paying for the clean-up—a classic case of privatizing gains and socializing losses that is all too common in the coal industry.

But though the proposed rule includes modest improvements such as better clean-up requirements, it also allows too much damage to occur in the first place. That’s why Earthjustice, joined by a large coalition of local and national public-interest groups, is calling on the Obama administration to further strengthen this rule. In a comment letter filed yesterday, the coalition explained that the final rule should restore the ban on mining and mine waste disposal within 100 feet of streams, crack down on operations that are the most damaging to mountains and ridge lines, make it clear that mines can’t degrade downstream water quality, and empower ordinary citizens to enforce water quality standards in court. Many of these tougher requirements are actually required by laws like the Clean Water Act, so the Obama administration will be on solid ground if it adopts and enforces them.  

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