balancing the scales, June 10, 2013
Canary Project Update
Week in Washington: Members urge water protection and just transition
The Alliance for Appalachia’s annual Week in Washington in May focused on protecting the region’s water and supporting an economic transition for workers and communities who have been dependent on coal mining. The dozen KFTC members who attended participated in meetings with members of Congress and their staffs and a variety of federal agencies. There were also public events, including a rally outside the headquarters of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (see sidebar). “We had a great meeting with Rep. John Yarmuth, who continues to cosponsor the Clean Water Protection Act, and thanked him for all of his support,” reported Carey Henson in a blog post. KFTC members also had good meetings focused on economic transition with Rep. Andy Barr and Rep. Thomas Massie, as well as meetings with staff members from the offices of Rep. Hal Rogers, Rep. Brett Guthrie, Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul. Overall, participants met with 75 members of Congress or their staff representatives. Meetings coordinated by the Alliance for Appalachia’s Economic Transition Team included representatives from the U.S. Steelworkers and Mondragon Cooperatives, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Office of Surface Mining’s Coal Country Team and others. These meetings focused on the potential for a federal-level initiative to support just and sustainable economic development in the region. Participants also met with the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to discuss the enforcement of mining and water quality laws, including the lack of enforcement by state officials, and ending mountaintop removal. A multi-state delegation formally petitioned the EPA to begin a rule-making process to limit conductivity in the nation’s streams. A formal petition was used because the EPA is required to respond. Central Appalachian residents have been asking EPA to begin the rule-making process since a federal court ruled last year that the agency’s conductivity “guidance” was not enforceable. “This conductivity guidance – based on scientific evidence – gives us the first sign that something may be wrong with
our water. It is a great tool for people in Appalachia,” KFTC member Rick Handshoe said. “It may not tell you what exactly is wrong, but it does tell you something is wrong and further testing is needed.” Research shows that the health of aquatic life in Central Appalachian streams begins to be affected when conductivity levels reach 300 micro siemens, and begins to die at 500 micro siemens. Many Kentucky streams where mining has occurred in the watershed already exceed the 500 micro siemens threshold. The Week in Washington is organized by the Alliance for Appalachia, a coalition with member groups in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. KFTC is a founding member.
Nick and Rustina Mullins (center, in yellow) and family along with Carey Henson and family (center right) participated in the rally outside U.S. EPA headquarters.
Residents present EPA officials with toxic water The Week in Washington included a rally in front of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters coordinated by Appalachia Rising. Participants called for an end to mountaintop removal and protection of the region’s water. Residents of Central Appalachian states brought more than 100 gallons of brown, black and red water that had been collected in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. Many streams are lifeless. Some communities’ well water is so toxic that it can only be used for flushing toilets. Even municipal water systems have manganese, aluminum and other contaminants. “Sometimes the water runs orange, and you wouldn’t want to touch it, much less drink it. But what’s more dangerous is when toxic water from your tap looks
and smells totally fine. People sometimes drink it for years without knowing that they’re drinking toxic water and that’s what’s making them sick,” said Josh May of Magoffin County, a member of STAY (Stay Together Appalachian Youth) and KFTC. “We are bringing this water to the EPA as a way of holding them accountable. We’re having them sign for it so that they can formally acknowledge the problems that we’re living with every day in the mountains.” Nearly two dozen studies have documented higher levels of cancer, heart and respiratory disease, and a variety of other illnesses associated with living near a mountaintop removal operation. “There is no longer the luxury of time – we need the EPA to act now because people are sick and dying now,” said
Dustin White, a community organizer with Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in West Virginia. Rally participants circled the courtyard carrying the gallon jugs of contaminated water, singing, and chanting. They demanded that EPA officials come out of their offices to accept delivery of the water. With the support of the crowd, a small group risked arrest by blocking the building entrance, repeatedly calling Nancy Stoner (EPA acting administrator for water) and refusing to leave until she appeared in person. She did. In front of the crowd, Stoner and other EPA officials read Appalachia Rising’s petition and accepted the water delivery.
KFTC and allies found it necessary to go to court again in May to protect Kentucky’s water from state officials collaborating with coal companies. Appalachian Voices, Waterkeeper Alliance, Kentucky Riverkeeper, KFTC and several Kentucky residents (petitioners) asked the Franklin Circuit Court to vacate an Agreed Order signed in April by Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters that claims to resolve all recent water quality violations by Frasure Creek Mining. The agreement lets Frasure Creek “off
the hook for thousands of water quality violations,” explained Eric Chance, a water quality specialist with Appalachian Voices. The settlement “is inadequate to address Frasure Creek’s pollution problems and prevent such harms from occurring in the future,” added Chance. The legal filing called the administration’s action “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, contrary to law, and not supported by substantial evidence.” The petitioners also pointed out that they were granted full party status in the
administrative enforcement case but were shut out of the negotiations between the cabinet and Frasure Creek that resulted in the final Agreed Order. “We as citizens have the right to intervene and participate in this process. Yet the cabinet continues to ignore the law and shield another coal company from any meaningful enforcement,” explained Ted Withrow, a member of KFTC’s Litigation Team. “This Agreed Order was done behind closed doors, shutting citizens out, even though we had full rights to be part of the process.”
Carey Henson contributed to this story.
KFTC, allies file suit to protect water from coal pollution
This is the June 2013 edition of balancing the scales, the organizational newsletter of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth