Gearing up for Senate mountaintop removal hearing

June 24, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.


Photo by Vivian Stockman, showing aerial view of mountaintop removal and slurry impoundment above Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County, W.Va.

Environmental groups and the coal industry are both gearing up for tomorrow’s big Senate subcommittee hearing on mountaintop removal.

Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. and chairman of the water and wildlife subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, called the hearing to take testimony on mountaintop removal and specifically on his Appalachian Restoration Act. The legislation — a mere two pages long — would remove “excess spoil” (the stuff that used to be the mountains) from surface coal mines from the definition of “fill material” that can be approved for dumping into streams under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Scheduled witnesses include Randy Pomponio, director of environmental assessment for EPA’s Region 3 office, West Virginia activist Maria Gunnoe, W.Va. Environmental Secretary Randy Huffman, and Margaret Palmer, a scientist from the University of Maryland.


I intercepted the top secret Friends of Coal plan to bus in coal miners for the hearing:

A US Senate hearing on mountaintop mining is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. this Thursday, June 25 in Washington DC.  The Mountaintop Mining Coalition and Citizens for Coal are joining forces to provide a presence in Washington during the hearing.

Several buses are being chartered to leave from Logan and Charleston to transport anyone interested in attending the hearing.  The buses will leave the Fountainplace Mall in Logan at 6:00 a.m. and will travel to the WVCA offices in Northgate Business Park in Charleston where they will pick up additional passengers at around 7:00 am.  The buses will then travel to Washington DC, arriving at Union Station at approximately 2:00 p.m.
Those attending the hearing will have some time at Union Station to eat and get in a bit of sight-seeing prior to attending the hearing in the Dirksen Building, Rm. 406.

If you are interested in attending this event Thursday please give us a call. If you have any questions of need additional information, please contact T.L. Headley at 304-342-4153 or by email at or
We urge you to contact us by noon, Wednesday to reserve your spot on the bus. Attending this hearing is vital to our industry’s future in Appalachia.
It is important to keep in mind that members of the media will be covering the event and a few local media members will be joining us for the trip. Please keep in mind the following points when discussing the issues with the media. Surface mining represents more than 40 percent of West Virginia’s coal production.

  • Thousands of West Virginia families depend on surface mining for their livelihoods.
  • Entire communities depend on the jobs offered by surface mining.
  • Southern West Virginia needs the land that can be provided by mining for future economic development.
  • Surface mining is already one of the most heavily regulated mining methods.
  • Our miners are proud of the work they do and the great care they take to preserve the environment.
  • We want to work. We want to mine coal.

Environmentalists are also gearing up, though, reminding folks that the hearing can be watched via Webcast here, and with the Sierra Club announcing plans to micro-blog the hearing on Twitter, with the hashtag #stopmtr.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are also getting into the act, distributing this Congressional Research report that  concludes the bill’s ban on valley fills applies not just to “mountaintop removal” mining, but to all forms of surface mining.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, issued a statement that called the legislation a “monumental disaster” for the nation “as it effectively bans nearly 70 percent of U.S. coal production.”

“Coal states from Wyoming to West Virginia would lose jobs, face higher electricity prices, and the nation would face greater dependence on foreign energy,” Inhofe said in his statement.

But Inhofe’s numbers only add up if you assume that the ban on valley fills from coal mining would result in a ban on the huge surface mines in Wyoming, which produces a large chunk of the nation’s coal.  And generally speaking, Powder River Basin mines do not use valley fills — these waste dumps are unique to the large strip mines in Appalachia.

It’s also important to note that this legislation is bipartisan, having been co-sponsored by Tenn. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who said when it was introduced:

Coal is an essential part of our energy future, but it is not necessary to destroy our mountaintops in order to have enough coal.

2 Responses to “Gearing up for Senate mountaintop removal hearing”

  1. watcher says:

    Intercepted? No secret about it Ken ,its been all over the radio since friday here in southern W V. I posted about it over at A Mountain Journey early today.

  2. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    That was a joke … apparently not a very good one. Sorry.


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