Coalition Letter: Mountain Top Removal

June 24, 2009

Dear Ms. Jackson,

Lands and water are essential parts of God’s creation. Through the land, God nourishes life and water links human life to the rest of God’s Creation. Creation begins with God calling life out of the water (Genesis 1:2). It is through water that all of Creation is gifted with life; life, in all of its forms, is not possible without water.

All God’s people share the responsibility of protecting lands and water so that all of humankind, especially those living in poverty and generations yet to come, may use and enjoy Creation. However, in recent years the health of our water sources has been jeopardized by court decisions and loopholes created by regulatory agencies that could leave hundreds of thousands of miles of streams and over 20 million acres of wetlands without federal safeguards against pollution. A recent federal court decision opened the floodgates of more than 100 mountaintop removal coal mining permits; if all these permits go forward, together they would destroy nearly 60,000 acres of mountain landscape, an additional 400 valleys, and more than 200 miles of streams, causing substantial damage to downstream waters.

We are disappointed with the Administrations’ recent decision to continue the process of reviewing and evaluating proposals for new mines. The agreement among the Army Corps of Engineers, the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency puts in place an interagency plan that may strengthen regulations for mountaintop removal projects. However, this level of interagency cooperation will not stop the destruction caused by mountaintop removal mining. Continuing this destructive practice will negatively impact the people of Appalachia through the loss of rivers, streams, and forests; through the continued contamination of their drinking water; and through the continued threat of flooding – among other impacts.

A long-term solution is needed. To prevent further devastation, we call upon the EPA to move forward with a new Clean Water Act rule prevent the use of mining waste as "fill material" which is then dumped into Appalachian streams. In 2002, the Bush administration changed a key Clean Water Act rule to broaden the definition of legal fill material to include mining waste. Including waste in the definition of fill has allowed coal mining companies across Appalachia to dispose of their waste, in the form of displaced rock and debris, into streams across the region. The EPA estimates that to date, close to 2,000 miles of streams have been contaminated or destroyed by this practice, and communities throughout the Appalachian region suffer daily from contaminated drinking water, increased flooding, and a decimated landscape.

God entrusted stewardship of lands and water to our care (Genesis 2:15). As part of our call to be stewards of creation, we have a duty to use the land responsibly, to manage it so that it serves the good of all, and to protect it for future generations and for all life. Therefore, as people of faith we have a moral obligation to uphold the integrity of God’s creation. Establishing this Clean Water Act rule is one step in doing that.

Sincerely,

Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
National Council of Churches, USA
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
The Union for Reform Judaism
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society