Coalbed Methane: CCC and members (Powder River Basin Resource Council, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, the Northern Plains Resource Council, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, and the Western Colorado Congress) protested the Bureau of Land Management’s environmental impact statement that concluded the impact of 66,000 new coalbed methane wells would be “minor.”
Northern Plains Resource Council pursued a case all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and won. The upshot is that salty discharge water from coalbed methane gas wells is a pollutant covered by the Clean Water Act.
Power Plant Waste (PPW): In May 2003, CCC helped bring 21 citizens and scientists to Washington to meet with EPA assistant director Marianne Horinko and other officials. In July, Ms. Horinko—who had just been named as acting head of EPA—wrote CCC that she would grant our request for public meetings in 2004 with our members in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Texas and that she would consider banning the routine practice of power plant waste dumping in contact with groundwater and surface water.
Over 75 power plant waste dumps in 22 states with serious toxic pollution had been identified by late 2003. Investigators are finding more each month, and EPA hasn’t even begun to look at power plant dumps in states like Montana, West Virginia and others.
Mountain Top Removal: The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in January 2003 overturned KFTC’s victory for enforcing the Clean Water Act and stopping valley fills. The 4th Circuit gutted the CWA regulations limiting the dumping of mine spoils in stream buffer zones and streams (http://pacer.ca4.uscourts.gov/opinion.pdf/021736.P.pdf). KFTC initiated the litigation (KFTC v Rivenburgh) in 2001. KFTC sued the Army Corp of Engineers (ACE) under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to stop ACE from approving valley fills and dumping mine spoils in streams. In 2002 Judge Haden, S.D. W. VA. District Court, enjoined the ACE and harshly criticized the EPA and ACE for new rules legalizing the dumping of mine spoils in valleys and streams.
CCC, in alliance with several national groups, mobilized the grassroots and member groups calling for Congressional hearings on the rule change that allowed a broader definition of waste to be dumped into our nation’s waterways. The rule change was designed to legalize the practice of mountaintop removal valley fills, which bury streams and rivers in mining waste. Citizens Coal Council along with numerous environmental groups participated in a rally outside of the Office of Surface Mining in Charleston, West Virginia opposing the practice of Mountain Top Removal by the coal industry.
Kentucky Resources Council, Inc. and Citizens Coal Council submitted comments to the Office of Surface Mining on behalf of citizens living in the coalfields protesting a proposed rulemaking intended to weaken regulations concerning disposal of excess spoil, diversions and stream buffer zones.
Massey Coal Annual Meeting: CCC, UMWA, and members from Kentucky and West Virginia infiltrated the meeting to “speak truth” to the CEO and board members about the devastation caused by mountain top removal.
Zuni Salt Lake: In May 2003, CCC, on behalf of the Zuni Salt Lake Coalition, successfully nominated the Zuni Salt Lake and Sanctuary Zone to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Sites of 2003. Inclusion in this prestigious list and the prominent media coverage associated with it greatly increased the pressure on SRP to drop the mine plan and brought international recognition to the issue.
The Zuni Salt Lake Coalition focused on building a grassroots consumer activist network in Phoenix—the home base of the Salt River Project (SRP) electric utility that held the mine leases—creating a wider coalition of support and improving our web-based outreach. When OSM was slow to hold a hearing, CCC helped to organize a “People’s Hearing” at Zuni Pueblo in July 2003 that gave over 500 citizens of the Pueblo the chance to speak out on this issue and to demonstrate to the new governor of New Mexico that we were holding him accountable for his campaign promise to help protect Zuni Salt Lake.
In August 2003, CCC—working in coalition with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Water Information Network, Sierra Club, other environmental organizations, and the Zuni Tribal Council—scored a victory in the fight to protect the sacred Zuni Salt Lake and Sanctuary Zone in western New Mexico from a proposed strip mine. The electric utility planning the mine, SRP, scrapped its planned 18,000 acre strip mine and released its permits in the face of growing community opposition and negative regional press.
This victory has had positive repercussions throughout the coalfields, especially on Native lands in the southwest United States. Cal Seciwa, Coalition steering committee member and CCC board alternate explained, “This struggle lasted over 20 years for the Zuni people. Look what victories we can win, what changes we can make in such a short time when we join and pull together!” Since SRP’s announcement, CCC and the Zuni Salt Lake Coalition have remained diligent in protecting the Salt Lake and Sanctuary Zone. The Coalition met for an evaluation session in August and among the new campaign plans are directives to ensure that SRP returns the bodies excavated during their initial survey and that they relinquish all leases as they have promised.
Soon after SRP dropped their plans, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) scheduled an auction of oil and gas rights on land near the Lake and Sanctuary Zone. They failed to complete environmental analysis as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and failed to consult with the public and Native American Nations as required by the National Historic Preservation Act. Members of the Coalition organized a citizens’ rally in October 2003 at the BLM auction in Santa Fe, New Mexico, spotlighting the agency’s digressions and pledging to prevent damage to sacred sites, public lands, and resources in the area. As a result, only 45 of the 70 tracts were sold.
Longwall Mining and Coalfield Justice: In July Tri-state Citizens Mining Network (TSCMN) (Pennsylvania), the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, with CCC coordination, staged simultaneous actions to protest longwall mining and mountain top removal.
Subsidence: CCC and its co-plaintiffs appealed its subsidence action to the Supreme Court. OSM and the National Mining Association argued that subsidence does not cause surface damage and that underground mines causing subsidence can be permitted under homes, parks, cemeteries, and other areas. The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal in 2004.
Regardless of the unfavorable Circuit Court decision, homeowners with subsidence damage can still be compensated under state rules after the damage has occurred. Subsidence will continue to be governed by state rules. That’s good if your state has rules stronger than the Office of Surface Mining’s rules.
AML Reauthoriztion Campaign: The Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Federal Trust Fund pays for cleanup and reclamation of old coal mine sites across the country. Because there was still a 25 year backlog of sites to clean up and the expiration date on the AML tax was September 2004, it was important to start campaigning for AML reauthorization in 2003. The fund had succeeded in restoring damaged lands, communities and water resources and bringing jobs and a positive economic future to the coal fields, but thousands more sites still needed remediation. With crucial input from members across the country, CCC’s AML Committee drafted its own AML renewal principles that would benefit the coalfields by:
- Extending the program to 2029, enough time to fix most of the problems in the inventory
- Maintaining the fee paid into the fund by mine operators
- Continuing to fund “Priority 3” and general welfare projects that clean up acid mine drainage and improve water quality
- Increasing money to states with small programs—most of whom don’t have enough funding to get the work done now
CCC board members joined together on Monday, November 3rd, 2003, in Washington, DC, to recruit Congressional and Senate endorsement of CCC’s principles and received positive feedback from several of the 23 legislators visited.
The UMWA, 17 governors, and 18 national and regional environmental organizations joined CCC in supporting a 1-year extension of AML when it became impossible to get reauthorization bill CCC could live with. Senators Byrd and Specter got the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve a 9-month extension of the existing AML funding program to June 2005. CCC and allies fought again in 2005 to reauthorize AML funding for 25 years only to win a 1-year extension to June 2006. In 2006 the campaign to reauthorize AML funding produced a bill reauthorizing AML funding. It provides less reclamation than coalfield citizens campaigned for and deserve, but we did get reauthorization for 15 years (to 2021) with reduced tonnage fees. The work of CCC, its members and allies over the years was critical in convincing the politicians that there was a lot of political support for reauthorizing AML.
OSM Proposes Weaker Stream Buffer Zone (SBZ) Protections: The federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) proposed in March 2003 to weaken the protective stream buffer zone regulations in order to eliminate the current requirement that instream water quality and water quality protections must be met for intermittent and perennial streams. OSM wanted to address the “narrow interpretations” of the SBZ by Judge Haden even though OSM had told the Circuit Court of Appeals that the Haden decision – that fills should not be built in intermittent and perennial streams – should be upheld.
Given this effort by the Office of Surface Mining to accommodate construction of fills lower in watersheds by weakening stream buffer zone protections, it was no wonder that coalfield citizen groups reacted with cynicism to the release of the proposed Environmental Impact Statement, and the representation by the federal agencies that they will improve the regulation of the disposal of spoil and mountaintop removal operations.
The draft Programmatic EIS released for public comment on May 30 documented the damage from years of laissez faire regulatory policy concerning disposal of excess mine spoil and protection of headwater streams. The agencies had the tools, but apparently not the will, to reduce the impact of mining on land and water resources. Kentucky Resource Council (KRC) and CCC submitted comments opposing the weaker SBZ rules.
Longwall Mining: In January, CCC nominated Greene and Washington Counties in Pennsylvania — almost one million acres — to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of 11 Most Endangered Places of 2004. Longwall mines had damaged or destroyed over two-dozen known historic sites and hundreds more lie above the path of the underground mines, which remove the coal and collapse the surface. The Tri-State Citizens Mining Network asked each member group of CCC to send a letter of support for this nomination.
Power Plant Waste (PPW): Citizens Coal Council, Hoosier Environmental Council, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action along with 125 grassroots groups across the nation filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting the agency to take immediate action to prohibit the dumping of power plant waste (PPW) in direct contact with groundwater and surface water until federal enforceable regulations are developed.
In response, the EPA held “listening sessions” on PPW 15 April 04 in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Indiana to hear FROM US how power plant waste threatens our environment and health. They heard this:
— Power plant waste is toxic and it contaminates the nation’s lakes, rivers and drinking water supplies;
— EPA must ban PPW disposal into surface water and groundwater;
— EPA must do what it promised, promulgate federal regulations to ensure that this massive industrial waste stream is disposed of and reused safely!
Citizens Coal Council, Hoosier Environmental Council, and the Clean Air Task Force along with 280 groups across the country demanded that the EPA name unregulated coal waste dumps as hazardous and set environmental controls such as monitoring groundwater, requiring liners and collecting the chemicals that leach out into the streams and groundwater.
EPA officials, in response to citizen pressure, conducted hearings to hear the public’s views about power plant waste dumping, particularly dumping in mines and quarries. The hearings were held in Dallas, Texas, where Neighbors For Neighbors and other groups testified, in Vincennes, Indiana, organized by theHoosier Environmental Council, and in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Army for a Clean Environment
As a result of the hearings, the EPA announced in July that the National Research Council (NRC) (part of the National Academy of Sciences) would launch a study of the effects of dumping PPW into coal mines. The report, Managing Coal Combustion Residues in Mines, released by the National Academies of Science on March 1, 2006, called for enforceable standards on disposal of power plant wastes in mines.
PPW Ruling in Texas: The Texas utilities and industrial power producers tried an end run around the growing public concern over the toxic contamination from power plant waste and asked the state to issue weak rules allowing them to dump the waste in unlined strip mine pits. Over a dozen Texas and national groups led by Neighbors For Neighbors did a terrific job of blowing the utilities and the state agency out of the water at hearings last March. Their work was so convincing that the US Office of Surface Mining decided in May that the proposed state rules could not be approved!
PPW Permit Denied: The folks at the Army for a Clean Environment (ACE) in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, used their stellar research skills to oppose successfully a coal company’s recent application to the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to dump power plant sludge and other wastes into an unlined mine pit. The company, Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company (LCN), drew ACE’s attention in 2002, when it received a $9 million loan from the USDA and then again when the PA Department of Transportation recently announced it was giving the company a $200,000 grant to improve its railroad to bring in the river sludge. After looking into LCN’s grant application, ACE notified county commissioners, encouraging them to take a closer look at the company’s tax records.
LCN was embroiled in lawsuits and liens and reportedly owed over $1 million in back taxes, information that it omitted from its grant application. State Rep. McCall convinced members of the State Transportation Committee to table the railroad grant and both State Rep. Argall and Sen. Rhodes questioned any railroad grant to LCN. At the urging of ACE, the Carbon and Schuylkill county commissioners also researched the back taxes owed and on August 26 they sent letters to DEP Secretary Kathy McGinty, asking the state to deny LCN’s dumping application.
Peabody Dumps PPW in Indiana Strip Mine: Don Mottley ofSave Our Land and Environment uncovered one big stinking toxic mess at Peabody’s Squaw Creek strip mine. From 1965 to 1979 Alcoa used the mine, source of its coal supply, to dump millions of gallons of coal tar pitch, chromium hydroxide sludge and other industrial byproducts. Miners weren’t told of the hazardous waste until January 2004 and several of their co-workers had cancer or had died of cancer. An employee of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management tried to reassure workers and the public that the color of the “green goo” shows that the acidic waste was neutralized, but several miners testified on July 26 that their skin peeled and burned and cows died after drinking water from ponds in the area.
Mottley said everyone should be aware that mine pits are awfully tempting to coal and industrial companies and they like to turn them into “free” dumps because they are seldom closely monitored or frequently inspected.
Stream Buffer Zone (SBZ): OSM also wanted to gut the stream buffer zone rule in order to allow miners to dump mine spoils in valleys and streams. CCC organized a letter writing campaign opposing the change. We are proud of the many CCC members who spoke at the stream buffer zone hearings on March 30, 2004, held in Charleston, WV, Green Tree, PA, Harriman, TN, Hazard, KY, and Washington, DC. The turn out for the hearings was amazing, and than 32,000 citizens called or wrote OSM to object to the proposed gutting.
Mountaintop Removal and Valley Fills: Coal River Mountain Watch, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the Natural Resources Defense Council challenged “Nationwide Permit 21” valley fills. The federal district court in southern West Virginia stopped the Army Corps of Engineers from granting these streamlined permits that were intended only for low impact activities.
Always creative, the members of Save our Cumberland Mountains took their “message in a bottle” on a 400-mile, 12-day trip to the Governor in Nashville from East Tennessee. That’s the route mine slurry water would take from mountaintop removal and ridge top mining. On Saturday, July 24, members of SOCM delivered the bottle to the Governor and asked him to work with them to protect the state’s streams from mining.
CCC Gathering: Twenty-three coalfield citizens representing nine groups and five states meet in Huntington, WVA, for a “CCC Gathering” to develop strategies for outlawing valley fills.
Applicant Violator System (AVS): The federal coal law (SMCRA) says that persons or companies that forfeit bonds, pollute and don’t clean it up are not allowed to mine anymore. To make sure they don’t play a shell game, SMCRA violators are listed on a system called the Applicant Violator System (AVS) that tracks everyone who controls a company and their links with companies that forfeit bonds or walk away from mining violations. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) proposed changes to SMCRA to allow parent companies, like Massey and Arch with lots of subsidiaries, to escape responsibility for subsidiaries that violate SMCRA. CCC organized a letter writing campaign opposing the change.
In March, on behalf of Kentucky Resource Council and the Citizens Coal Council, KRC’s National Citizens Coal Law Project filed comments opposing the proposal by OSM to allow applicants for mining permits to conceal from regulators and the public the identities of persons who have the actual ability to determine the manner in which the permit applicant will conduct mining operations. The proposed OSM rulemaking would change the “ownership and control rules” that implement the Congressional prohibition against issuing new permits to operations linked to current violators of the law. The OSM proposal would hobble regulatory authorities in deciding whether to deny permits to corporations that own other corporations currently in violation of environmental laws. The proposed regulatory rollback also would place a new and unexplained burden of proof on regulatory authorities who attempt to block the issuance of new permits to persons who own or control coal industry scofflaws. The comments, developed on behalf of KRC and the Citizens Coal Council by veteran citizen’s lawyer Walt Morris, pointed out that OSM had failed to cite any factual basis to show that the proposed changes were necessary and had failed to give any reason for the changes except the agency’s desire to settle a lawsuit brought by a coal industry trade group.
Coalbed Methane: The Northern Plains Resource Council in Montana has published a new study by professionals that shows it is technologically and economically practical to reinject wastewater from coal bed methane wells back into aquifers or other rock formations. Wastewater dumping from thousands of wells has contaminated lands and polluted surface and ground water in well fields across the country. The council is asking for comments on the study. The two reports are available at www.northernplains.org or www.kuipersassoc.com
Oil and Gas Accountability Project, based in Durango, Colorado, has published a new guide for landowners who may be facing oil and gas drilling, including coal bed methane. To obtain a copy of “Oil and Gas at Your Door? A Landowner’s Guide to Oil and Gas Development” go to www.ogap.org and scroll down. For other questions on coalbed methane development, contact OGAP from their web page or call them at 970-259-3353.
Water Pollution Victory: For the second time in two years, a judge has blocked the Alabama Department of Environmental Management from issuing water pollution permits to mines and industry that allow them to degrade high quality streams. The ruling affects over 75,000 miles of state waterways and resulted from a lawsuit brought by the Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation.
“Big Fish” Event in North Dakota: In mid-July Dakota Resource Council members and allies welcomed a giant inflatable fish with a message: “No more mercury in our fish, in our bodies.” Children, parents, day-care providers, and members turned out at the Big Fish event and press conference to call on the North Dakota Congressional delegation to oppose the Bush Administration’s very controversial plan and “start protecting our children’s health and environment,” said DRC member Carmen Hoffner, mother of a toddler.
People are primarily exposed to mercury by eating mercury-contaminated fish and coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions. Plants in North Dakota released over one ton of mercury into the air in 2001; the state has posted health warnings for mercury covering all bodies of water in the state. North Dakota ranks 14th in the nation for mercury pollution. For more info on DRC, go to www.drcinfo.com. You can find out about mercury pollution in your state by going to www.cta.policy.net
Griles Junket Disrupted: Deputy Secretary of the Interior Department traveled to Phoenix, AZ in January to relax with GOP members of Congress and his former clients in the coal industry while staying at the Arizona Biltmore (starting at $299/night). Members of CCC and other groups showed up for lunch and peppered Griles with questions about his conflicts of interest, held a citizens’ press conference, and awarded Griles a fake check for selling out the people and the environment. Griles resigned his government post in January 2005 and was sentenced in June 2007 for lying about his role in the Abramoff scandal.
Beyond Coal: Members of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth held a recent workshop on the principles and tactics of nonviolent direct action that brought together coalfield residents and trainers from Tennessee. One trainer said, “Throughout history – going back through the fight against slavery, through the Old Testament, and across the globe – people have taken collective action to physically and nonviolently confront injustice.” Participants agreed that there was a need to increase use of direct action to expose and stop the destruction caused by coal mining. “What else would we wait for?” asked Audra Slocum. “In my community there is no real discussion [about the impact of coal]. We’ve got to find ways to spark that conversation and build public support.”
In July KFTC sponsored a weekend campout for about 40 people to learn about efforts to move Kentucky away from its abusive relationship with the coal industry and explore steps toward an economic and energy future beyond coal. Many were amazed at the depth of corruption in the coal industry and their willingness to do just about anything for the sake of profit. Leevone Baker, a former mining engineer fighting against Consol Coal, said, “By the time we get through with mining, all that will be left is a wasteland.”
6th Circuit Invalidates EPA Rules Relaxing Mine Pollution Standards: On October 7, 2004, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in the case of Citizens Coal Council et al. v. EPA in which CCC and Kentucky Resources Councilsued to invalidate the EPA rules relaxing pollution standards on coal remining and western alkaline mining operations. CCC and KRC had challenged a January 2002 EPA rulemaking that created two new categories of coal mining water pollution limits – one for remining operations and the other for western coal mines, and which eliminated enforceable pollution limits for those operations in favor of unenforceable and unpredictable “best management practices.”
In a 2-1 decision, the entire EPA rule was invalidated and EPA was directed to either withdraw the final rule or issue a new one consistent with the court’s opinion.
The Court of Appeals held EPA’s remining rules to be invalid because EPA failed to set standards based on the degree of effluent reduction that mining operations could achieve. EPA’s approach of using background site conditions as the only enforceable effluent limitation runs afoul of the law, according to the court.
On the western alkaline coal mining subcategory, the Court invalidated EPA’s rule on the basis that setting non-numeric effluent limitations based on background conditions “shirks” EPA’s duty to determine in terms of the amount of pollutants, the degree of reduction attainable by the application of various levels of technology.
The decision was a significant victory for the Citizens Coal Council, coalfield citizens in the east and western US, and KRC. The plaintiffs were represented by Tom FitzGerald, Kentucky Resources Council, with assistance on the brief from Walt Morris.
Stream Buffer Zone (SBZ): On behalf of Kentucky Resource Council (KRC) and the Citizens Coal Council, KRC’s National Citizens Coal Law Project filed comments today opposing a proposal by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (“OSM”) to weaken stream buffer zone protections against disposal of spoil and coal wastes in streams. The proposed OSM rulemaking would eliminate the existing regulatory requirement that stream buffer zone incursions be allowed only where instream water quality is protected. Under the rubric of providing clarification and resolving regulatory uncertainty the proposed rule in fact represents another effort by the Bush Administration to accommodate the destruction of headwater streams through dumping of mine wastes and excess mine spoil.
OSM to Weaken State Oversight: Kentucky Resource Council (KRC) filed comments opposing the Office of Surface Mining’s (OSM) proposed rule weakening oversight of state mining programs. Under the change, a state refusing to amend the state laws and regulations in order to keep current with the federal law and OSM regulations would no longer face mandated sanctions. Instead, the “overall effectiveness” of the program would have to be in jeopardy before OSM would act. KRC criticized the proposed change: “There are two definitions of ‘oversight’ – the first, to oversee; the second, to overlook. The proposed rule continues the lamentable transition of OSM from its historic role as monitor of state performance to one of an agency that has lost sight of its intended function.”
The proposed rule would revise the state program amendment process to eliminate the current mandatory obligation on OSM to commence proceedings to substitute federal enforcement for all or part of an approved state program in the event of a failure on the part of the state regulatory authority to amend the approved state program as directed by the Secretary.
The rule would significantly erode the accountability of the individual state regulatory programs, and directly conflicts with the intent of Congress that the state regulatory programs approved under Section 503(a)(1)-(7) of the 1977 Act be maintained, administered and enforced consistently with the Secretary’s regulations, and with the Secretary’s mandatory obligations under Sections 504 and 521 of the Act.
AML Reauthorization: CCC and allies campaigned again in 2005 to reauthorize AML funding for 25 years only to win a 1-year extension to June 2006.
Mining Permit Denied: The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Department of Mines and Minerals (IL DNR) denied Capital Resources Development Co.’s application for a mining permit near Banner, IL. Banner citizens and the Banner Village board, working with Citizens Organizing Project (COP) showed that the proposed mine would illegally destroy a township road, destroy archeological sites, and the local water supply.