I came from Pennsylvania to West Virginia six weeks ago. What I have found in this short time is a miscarriage of environmental science, public policy and justice for the countless families affected by strip mining. The already meager protection afforded to public water supplies in the state by the EPA-approved Source Water Assessment and Protection Program has been gutted through endless variances granted to the coal companies. Located in Whitesville, where I work, the Boone-Raleigh Public Water Supply has had 14% of its watershed and 18% of its source water protection area included in strip mining permits. Across the Coal River watershed, 21% of source water protection areas have been included in strip mining permits. People drink, wash, cook and clean with this water every day at work and at home as strip mining floods the creeks with sediment and toxins.
Meanwhile Brushy Fork Impoundment looms, threatening to drown the valley with roughly 6 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry. This type of catastrophic engineering failure is much more than a remote possibility, with heavy blasting approved by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) continuing below and beside the impoundment. Even without a catastrophic failure this unlined impoundment is scheduled to leak toxins into the water table indefinitely. It will poison the land, water and health of the people of this area long after the coal companies have taken their profits and left. Whether slowly through a lifetime of poisoned well water or quickly under a flood of toxic liquid, slurry injections and impoundments like Brushy Fork are death. Mr. Roger Calhoun at the OSM publicly admitted last week that his agency has neither the resources to accurately assess and mitigate the danger of the Brushy Fork Impoundment nor the legal mandate to make the DEP do their job and enforce environmental protections like the Clean Water Act, the Safe Water Drinking Act or the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
We are in a time and place where state agencies like the DEP are too corrupt or too incompetent to do their jobs, and federal agencies like the EPA and the OSM are too incompetent or too underfunded to do theirs. Direct action is necessary to protect the heritage, health and environment of areas threatened by strip mining. “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”