Great News from my pals at OVEC
Court to Coal Industry: No more rubber stamp permits!
Earth Day Week was especially eventful this year, where OVEC celebrated some big wins and continued to take action. On Earth Day (April 22) we learned that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's ruling in Eastern Kentucky that upheld the Nationwide 21 permitting process, a streamlined process making it easier for companies to get large-scale mountaintop removal permits. OVEC actually won a victory in 2011 that stopped this permitting process in West Virginia. Last week’s victory, in which OVEC was also a plaintiff, strengthens our victory by making the process illegal nationwide.
Score One for the Clean Water Act!
On Tuesday, April 23, a federal appeals court in Washington, DC, unanimously ruled in OVEC’s favor that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the legal authority under the Clean Water Act to revoke a permit for one of the largest mountaintop removal mining operations ever proposed for West Virginia. That permit would have allowed the company to blow up over 2,000 acres of mountaintops and bury over six miles of streams. The EPA revoked the permit in 2011, citing the damage the mine would cause to the state's rivers, wildlife and communities. After the company sued last year, a U.S. District Court judge reversed the EPA's decision. When the EPA appealed the decision, OVEC signed on as a friend of the court.
Citizens Challenge the Federal Office of Surface Mining’s Secrecy over Coal Waste Impoundments
On April 25th, OVEC helped organize a press conference where residents spoke about a leaked federal Office of Surface Mining report on sludge impoundments obtained by the Sludge Safety Project. For years, citizens have raised concerns about the stability of coal waste dams and particularly about whether they are properly compacted. The summary indicates widespread problems that could impact public safety, but the report has not been made public by OSM. Furthermore, OSM has repeatedly denied citizen Freedom of Information Act requests for the raw data so an independent analysis can be performed. OVEC and others are demanding an immediate moratorium on expanding these impoundments until OSM's investigation is complete and an independent expert has been appointed to verify their stability.
Independent Scientists Affirm Health Problems Near Mountaintop Removal; Call for Immediate Moratorium
Over the past few years, numerous peer-reviewed studies have indicated that living near mountaintop removal operations increases the risk of severe health issues, such as cancer, asthma, birth defects, and heart disease. The coal industry has largely dismissed the results of those studies, arguing that the researchers are biased and the findings aren’t scientifically sound. To address these claims, working closely with OVEC for more than a year, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) formed an independent commission of scientists to review the current research and offer recommendations. The commission consisted of professors of pediatrics, epidemiology and biology. Last week, they released their conclusions that convincing evidence exists to link mountaintop removal to health problems, and that the federal government should support additional in-depth studies paid for by the coal industry. The primary recommendation is for the federal government to impose an immediate moratorium on mountaintop removal mining until new research indicates that mountaintop removal is not causing adverse health problems, essentially applying the precautionary principle.
The Whole World Really is Watching; Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Pays West Virginia a Visit
Through our organizing and media work, OVEC has been a driving force in turning the problem of mountaintop removal from West Virginia’s “Dirty Little Secret” to an issue that receives international attention. In 2012, OVEC, along with the Loretto Community UN, NGO and the Feminist Task Force, co-hosted the first-ever Women’s Climate Justice Tribunal. Women from WV, VA, KY and TN testified about the impacts of coal, especially mountaintop removal. Among other things, jurists called for an immediate moratorium on mountaintop removal and increased health studies. OVEC’s Executive Director presented the findings at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil as part of a formal panel of women from across the globe. She also gave a copy of the findings to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who also attended. This April 25, two representatives from the Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights came to West Virginia where they spoke with nearly twenty affected residents regarding human rights violations in the coalfields. Four OVEC staff set up the meetings and took them to visit a community that has been completely depopulated by mountaintop removal.
The delegates were part of a United Nations group of independent experts on business and human rights undertaking an information-gathering visit to the United States to look at current initiatives, opportunities and challenges in implementing the “UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” http://www.business-humanrights.org/SpecialRepPortal/Home/Protect-Respect-Remedy-Framework/GuidingPrinciples
Preliminary observations from their visit will be presented at a press conference May 1st 2013 at the United Nations Information Center. Findings and recommendations will be included in an official report presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2014.
Public Funding of WV Supreme Court Races Made Permanent!
To address the stranglehold the coal industry has on elected officials, in 2002 OVEC organized Citizens for Clean Elections (www.wvoter-owned.org), a diverse coalition that consists of 29 organizations promoting a voluntary system of public funding for state-level political campaigns. As a result of OVEC’s long-term work on this issue, in 2010, the legislature approved a pilot project to provide funding for candidates for the 2 open seats on the West Virginia Supreme Court in 2012. We made history in 2012 when Allen H. Loughry II became the first-ever publicly funded official in West Virginia to be elected to office despite being heavily outspent by his opponent, the wife of a WV State Senator who has strong ties to the coal industry. The most recent good news: During the 2013 legislative session, our legislature passed a bill which made permanent this pilot project—WV Supreme Court Public Campaign Financing Program! Thanks to OVEC’s perseverance and long-term education of citizens and lawmakers, West Virginia took an important step to keep special interest money out of the courtroom and to maintain and improve the integrity of our state’s highest court.
Thanks again, for helping to make this happen!
Janet Keating, Executive Director
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
P.O. Box 6753
Huntington, WV 25773-6753
304.522.4079 fax www.ohvec.org www.sludgesafety.org www.wvoter-owned.org "Your spirit is your true shield." Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido; qoute from The Art of Peace