Every week it seems as if there’s coal-related news to celebrate and to challenge us.

We celebrated last week’s decision from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Lisa Jackson to veto the water permit for the massive Spruce No. 1 mountaintop removal coal mining site in West Virginia.

Administrator Jackson’s brave step stopped a mountaintop mine that would have destroyed more than seven miles of vital streams and more than 2,000 mountain acres in an important part of Appalachia.

The fight against this Spruce No. 1 mine lasted 12 years. It was 1998 when a resident of Pigeonroost Hollow, one of the hollows that would be destroyed by the mine, sued the United States Army Corps of Engineers to revoke Arch Coal’s Clean Water Act permit.

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“We knew the cumulative impact of all these mines was going to be devastating to the state,” said Cindy Rank, Chair of the Mining Committee for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

“Now EPA has proof and documentation over these past 10 to 12 years of (mountaintop removal coal mining’s) serious impact to the land, environment, people and communities around it.”

For Chuck Nelson of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the permit veto stood for even more. “This is not just an environmental justice issue, but more so a human rights issue. EPA is doing its job; it’s following the law and science.”

Nelson, Rank, the Sierra Club and many others also hope EPA will go even farther and stop all mountaintop removal coal mining.

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“Today, mountains are still being blown up,” said Bill Price of the Sierra Club in West Virginia. “We don’t need to take a permit by permit approach, we need total abolition.

“(Mountaintop removal coal mining) has a negative economic impact. You can’t locate a business where you can’t drink the water. This has no economic value, it has an economic cost.”

Meanwhile in Texas, EPA moved in to protect public health and the environment last Friday by holding a hearing in response to Gov. Rick Perry’s refusal to enact Clean Air Act safeguards in the state that would protect the public from coal and other emitters’ carbon pollution.

The public support for EPA in this measure was overwhelming, as hundreds turned out at Friday’s hearing to call for EPA’s help in protecting their health from global warming.

“These common sense safeguards were smoothly implemented in every state except Texas. Gov. Rick Perry’s refusal to follow the law is putting Texas families’ health at risk and Texas businesses at a competitive disadvantage,” said Jennifer Powis, Senior Regional Representative, Sierra Club in Texas who spoke at the hearing. 

“It is time for Gov. Rick Perry to follow the law, address the pollution problem in Texas, and look out for the Texas economy and jobs.”

But now, unfortunately, Texas is not the only state objecting to EPA action to clean up our air.

This week, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt criticized EPA for holding Ameren, an electric utility in Missouri, accountable for air pollution at its Rush Island plant. The Rush Island plant is in direct violation of the Clean Air Act, but more importantly, it is currently contributing to dangerous levels of air pollution that lead to asthma, lung disease, heart attacks, and premature death throughout the St. Louis metro area and beyond.

Senator Blunt called EPA’s actions to reduce pollution “disingenuous”, “irresponsible” and “offensive.” Is he more interested in profits than the health of his state’s residents?

I thought the sentiment was summed up best by John Kissel, MD, FACP, former Medical Director at Regional Medical Center in St. Louis and a local Sierra Club member.

“Every day, doctors and nurses in St. Louis deal with the effects of childhood asthma: pain and suffering, missed school days, and the drain that it puts on our economy and social services. Why are our public officials apologizing for Ameren’s toxic and illegal pollution while blaming the EPA for doing its job by enforcing the laws that protect the air we breathe? We need Senator Blunt to stand up for us and protect our health. He should be on our side – not on the side of corporate polluters.”

We need EPA to protect public and environmental health – we applaud them for standing up to polluters.

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