By Jeff Biggers in Ecowatch - Signaling a watershed shift in recognizing the national health crisis from cancer-linked strip mining in central Appalachia, more than 200,000 people have signed historic CREDO Action and Earthjustice petitions, calling on Congress to pass the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act (H.R. 912) and enact a moratorium on new mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR). With the Appalachian coal industry in a tailspin and the global banking community pulling out of mountaintop removal financing, the extraordinary show of support for the ACHE Act campaign effectively acknowledges that the only defenders of the cancer-linked radical strip mining operations are a handful of absentee coal companies, indicted coal baron Don Blankenship, and their fringe supporters in Congress.
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Fourteen months after the world watched in astonishment as poorly regulated coal-washing chemicals contaminated the Elk River in West Virginia, coal country residents and supporters are gearing up for an epic showdown on March 16 with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection—and the U.S. Congress—over the mounting death toll and health crisis from mountaintop removal strip mining. After witnessing the loss of their health, livelihoods, forests, historic farms and homes over ahalf century of unparalleled strip mining destruction, The People’s Foot movement—an extraordinary alliance of residents, community and environmental groups and national civil rights organizations—is coming down in Charleston, West Virginia, with a clear message: March 16 has officially been declared “No More Mountaintop Removal Permits Day.”
Bowing to pressure from Quaker environmentalists, today PNC Bank announced that it will be restricting financing of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. The shift outlined in its 2015 Corporate Responsibility Report means PNC Bank will effectively cease its investment in this controversial practice. In 2012 PNC Bank financed Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal, CONSOL Energy, and Patriot Coal, which together were responsible for nearly half (44.97%) of Appalachian mountaintop removal production (1). PNC’s total investment was $687.5 million for that year. The grassroots group leading the charge for PNC’s new policy, Earth Quaker Action Team, hails the change as a major shift by the seventh largest US bank. “When we initiated our campaign in 2010, PNC attempted to placate us with a hollow policy. It’s good to see that PNC Bank is now taking meaningful steps,” says Matthew Armstead, staff coordinator for EQAT.
Today Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s veto of a permit for one of the largest and most extreme mountaintop removal coal mines ever proposed in Appalachia, the Spruce No. 1 Mine. The court found no merit in the coal industry’s case, and found that EPA’s decision to veto the Clean Water Act permit for this mine was reasonable and fully supported by the scientific record. Statement from Emma Cheuse, Earthjustice counsel who argued on behalf of several Appalachian groups in defense of the EPA’s veto: “Today’s court victory is a win for all Americans who believe our children deserve clean water and healthy lives without facing the increased threats of cancer, birth defects and early mortality associated with mountaintop removal coal mining."
Here’s a reality check: Since President Obama took office in 2009, not a single top level official from the White House, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Council on Environmental Quality, Department of the Interior or Department of Justice has ever made a fact-finding tour of mountaintop removal mining communities in central Appalachia, home to one of the worst health and humanitarian disasters in the nation. Even worse, a federal judge ruled last month that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may disregard studies on the health impacts of mountaintop removal mining in its permitting process. That could finally change with the newly appointed Department of Health and Human Service Secretary Sylvia Burwell, who was born and raised in Hinton, West Virginia. “We implore you to come home for a visit, come to our mountaintop removal communities in the Coal River Valley,” nationally-honored West Virginia advocate Bo Webb wrote in a letter to Burwell this week. “Come to Twilight and Lindytown and see what mountaintop removal is doing to us.”