WHITESVILLE — A Glen Daniel resident is heading to Pittsburgh this week to speak at one of several field hearings about a new federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Clean Power Plan.”
Unlike most Southern West Virginians, though, Paula Swearingen will be asking the EPA to toughen its enforcement of environmental regulations involving coal operations. While many coal miners and operators in the region deplore the EPA’s efforts, during the administration of President Barack Obama, to tighten controls, Swearingen thinks the agency is not going far enough.
“I’m worried the rest of America won’t know that there are many people in coal-mining communities who support the EPA’s regulatory authority to protect human health, yet we see this rule as only a starting point,” Swearingen said in explaining her trip to Pennsylvania. “We need it to go farther, faster, for the sake of our children. Those of us living in the shadow of mountaintop removal coal mining operations are living on one of the front-ends of climate change, and it’s already killing off communities.”
Swearingen describes herself as the mother of four and says their future is her major concern at the moment. She is also a volunteer with the Huntington-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC). Also headed to Pittsburgh as part of a nationwide coalition of grassroots groups will be Vernon Haltom, executive director of the Coal River Mountain Watch. The group lists Whitesville in Boone County as its home.
The nationwide coalition is organizing individuals to attend this week’s field hearings in Denver, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, according to a press release. OVEC is a part of the national effort, called the American Clean Energy Agenda (ACEA).
“The EPA needs to limit emissions for both the health of our planet and our local communities, but not to continue dirty energy business as usual with nuclear, fracked gas, offshore drilling, or industrial bio-mass,” Haltom said. “These rules very plainly do little about mountaintop removal, the health effects of which are devastating to communities, so we still need the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act.”
He continued, “States whose government is controlled by a dirty energy lobby, such as West Virginia, have a horrible enforcement record of existing laws and regulations, have vowed to fight these proposed rules tooth and nail, and cannot be expected to voluntarily comply. The rules need teeth to compel compliance.”
Haltom said citizen groups work in their own communities to address health and environmental issues stemming from coal mining, frac sand mining, gas fracking drilling and waste disposal operations, nuclear power and industrial-scale biomass. They are united in pushing for wide-spread, rapid adoption of localized renewable energy projects as the key to protecting the health and safety of their local communities, he went on.
“By citing the impact of smokestack emissions on public health, the EPA is highlighting the so-called ‘externalities’ of fossil fuels, nuclear power and industrial-scale biomass. However, these costs are far more extensive when calculated at each of the stages of the fuel cycles of coal, natural gas and nuclear power. This rule should be the beginning of an EPA assessment of the entire fuel cycle, from drilling and mining, transportation, waste management, as well as the harms from smokestack emissions,” said Janet Keating, OVEC’s executive director.
Coal River Mountain Watch’s stated goal is to “stop the destruction of our communities and environment by mountaintop removal mining, to improve the quality of life in our area and to help rebuild sustainable communities.”
Their Website says they are “working in communities impacted by the irresponsible practices of the coal industry in Southern West Virginia. We educate and mobilize citizens to organize and stand together for environmental justice.”
For more information about the planned hearings or the Coal River Mountain Watch organization, which was founded in 1998, call 304-952-4610 or 304-854-2182.