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Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

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Calling Out Big Coal at the EPA

3/23/2010 3:32:57 PM

Tags: Environment, energy, mountaintop removal coal mining, politics, air and water, health, forests, Appalachia, It’s Getting Hot in Here, Common Dreams, New York Times

EPA mountaintop removal protest

While the health care bill was being hammered out, a different sort of political drama unfolded in Washington at the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency, where environmental activists camped out for 32 hours to send a strong message to administrator Lisa Jackson: End mountaintop removal coal mining. The protest didn’t attract many prominent headlines in the shadow of the health care fracas, but like Obama and the Democrats it got the job done.

The protesters’ “purple mountains majesty” tents, built around tripods on which protesters perched, attracted just the sort of attention they were looking for, according to the blog It’s Getting Hot in Here, which publishes “dispatches from the youth climate movement”:

Almost every person who passed through our ‘Purple Mountain’s Majesty’ and underneath the banner “EPA: Pledge to End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in 2010” has been incredibly encouraging of our action. EPA employees, tourists and DC residents all demonstrated their support on the issue.

In addition to the many comments from EPA employees that “we are doing a great job” and “please keep doing what you’re doing,” Lisa Jackson personally tweeted her response. Administrator Jackson said in her tweet: “People are here today expressing views on MTM, a critical issue to our country. They’re concerned abt human health & water quality & so am I.”

Sure, it’s just a tweet, but parsing Jackson’s no-doubt-carefully constructed missive is telling. As Jeff Biggers notes at Common Dreams, she uses the acronym MTM, for “mountaintop mining,” a term favored by the coal industry over the more specifically descriptive MTR, for “mountaintop removal.”

EPA tripod sitterAlso, Jackson’s focus on human health and water quality sticks to the agency line on this issue. Biggers notes that an EPA spokeswoman yesterday said the protest was “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of EPA’s role” and explained that the EPA does not regulate the mining industry, but is only “responsible for ensuring that projects comply with the Clean Water Act.”

“Except,” notes Biggers, “it’s the mining industry that isn’t complying with the Clean Water Act.”

At GristJoshua Kahn Russell writes that actions speak louder than tweets:

At this point in the battle to end mountaintop removal coal mining, the question isn’t about whether Administrator Jackson is concerned about the issue. The question is what is her agency going to really do about it? …

Based on Jackson’s statements on March 8 at the National Press Club, it appears that the EPA is seeking ways to “minimize” the ecological damage of mountaintop mining rather than halt the most extreme strip mining practice. A paper released in January by a dozen leading scientists in the journal Science, however, concluded that mountaintop coal mining is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits all together.

One of the chief goals of the EPA protest, which was organized by the Rainforest Action Network, was to get Jackson to accept a citizen-guided flyover of mountaintop removal sites in Appalachia. We’re still waiting for her to tweet her RSVP.

Sources: It’s Getting Hot in Here, Common DreamsGrist 

Images by Chris Eichler, courtesy of Rainforest Action Network.



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