Home Energy and Environment Environmentalists Picket Annual Legislative “Coal Awareness” Breakfast

Environmentalists Picket Annual Legislative “Coal Awareness” Breakfast

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See the press release from the Virginia Sierra Club below, about a “coal awareness” breakfast held this morning in Richmond. This breakfast, by the way, epitomizes so much that’s wrong with the way our General Assembly works that it’s hard to know where to start. For starters, why in bloody hell is the wealthy coal industry receiving taxpayer-funded corporate welfare? Second, why are our elected officials kowtowing to this industry, especially when it makes up only a miniscule share of Virginia’s economic output? And third, why would our legislature be considering letting this industry off the hook for clean water and clean air laws that most everyone else has to follow? When you consider the devastation of mountaintop removal coal mining, not to mention the billions of tons per year on greenhouse gases, not to mention substances like arsenic, lead, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates, selenium, uranium, cadmium, boron, chromium, etc. – it’s totally FUBAR.

Coal Industry Bill Would Restrict Water Testing By State Officials

Environmentalists Picket Annual Legislative Coal Awareness Breakfast

RICHMOND – While Governor McDonnell was inside the Marriott Hotel in Richmond at a breakfast with coal industry officials this morning, citizens’ groups were outside protesting a coal industry bill before the General Assembly that would impede the state’s enforcement of clean water laws, making it easier for companies to cut costs by polluting Virginia’s waterways. The groups related this to the $45 million that the coal industry currently receives in direct taxpayer subsidies.

“It is particularly disturbing that, right now in the General Assembly, the coal industry is trying to push through legislation that creates a new legal loophole for themselves in Virginia’s clean water laws-another subsidy to the coal industry,” said Glen Besa, Director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter.

Representatives from the Sierra Club, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Appalachian Voices were on hand to protest the bill, which would restrict the state’s ability to consider stream monitoring or toxicity testing in permitting and enforcement actions. The House of Delegates passed the bill, HB 2123, yesterday and a Senate equivalent, SB 1025, is headed for the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources committee.

If the coal industry doesn’t want state officials testing the water, what are they afraid the tests will reveal?” asked Tom Cormons, Virginia Director for Appalachian Voices. “The industry is trying to tie state officials’ hands to prevent them from doing their job.” Surface mining operations have severe impacts in Virginia. According to the EPA’s most recent assessment, more than 150 miles of headwater streams were destroyed by mountaintop removal mining between 1992 and 2002 alone. – a practice with serious repercussions for downstream waters. “This has devastating impacts on both people’s drinking water and the streams that coalfields residents have used for fishing and swimming for generations,” said Sam Broach, a Big Stone Gap resident and President of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.

The bill would also repeal the citizen State Water Control Board’s legal authority over water pollution discharge permits for surface mines, vesting this authority directly in one individual, the Director of the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

The groups decried the relative lack of state support for clean energy in the face of subsidies and loopholes for the coal industry. “It is important for Virginians to understand that our state spends virtually nothing encouraging renewable energy industry investments in Virginia while tens of millions of dollars go to an industry that is harming our health and our environment,” explained Chelsea Harnish, Virginia Policy Coordinator for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.