MAC: Mines and Communities

US Update

Published by MAC on 2006-03-07

US Update

7th March 2006

"Product stewardship" - for some years supposedly practiced in Europe (for example by Germany since the 1990s in car manufacture) - is coming to Washington State in the shape of new legislation to enforce e-waste recycling.

On the other side of the country, efforts to control mercury pollution in Virginian waterways (mainly caused by Du Pont - the biggest supplier of cyanide to the mining industry), don't seem to be working.

In West Virginia, there are also unacceptably high levels of mercury in streams - hardly helped by continued contamination due to heavy metals from mountaintop coal mining.

Washington State Hands E-Waste Costs to Manufacturers

by ENS OLYMPIA, Washington

8th March 2006

By wide margins in both houses, the Washington State legislature Monday passed the most comprehensive electronic waste recycling bill in the country, establishing a program to provide residents with a free and simple way to recycle computers and TVs.

Governor Christine Gregoire will now have 20 days to sign or veto the bill.

The legislation requires manufacturers to finance the collection, transportation and recycling of computers, monitors, and TVs from consumers, small business, schools, small governments, and charities in the state.

As a result, the recycling program will be run without additional taxes or fees for consumers. This approach of “producer responsibility,” used by many countries in Europe and Asia, provides a financial incentive for manufacturers to make products that will cost less to recycle by being less toxic and easier to recycle.

Manufacturers may either create their own recycling programs, or participate in a centralized “standard plan” run by a quasi-governmental, third party agency.

Washington is the fourth state to pass an electronics recycling bill in the U.S., but the new Washington bill is more comprehensive than the others.

Both Maine and Maryland passed producer responsibility bills, and California passed a bill requiring consumers to pay fees on purchases to go into a recycling fund.

“This is now the most extensive product stewardship bill in the US,” said Ted Smith, chair of the national Computer TakeBack Campaign. “This is even stronger than the program in Maine, because it covers more products, it closes the door on the exporting of e-waste to countries like China and India, and it won’t allow the use of prison labor for e-waste disassembly.”

The Computer TakeBack campaign, a national coalition of groups advocating e-waste recycling, estimates that as much as 80 percent of the hazardous e-waste collected for recycling is actually shipped overseas to developing countries, which mostly lack adequate infrastructure to safely process it. The legislation, SB 6428, had an unusually wide range of supporters - Republicans and Democrats, businesses and environmentalists, manufacturers, retailers, recyclers, charities and local governments.

“The overwhelming show of support behind this proposal is due to its common sense approach and the hard work of all the partners – a wide and diverse coalition, as well as legislators from both sides of the aisle,” said Mo McBroom, policy director for the Washington Environmental Council, one of the key groups supporting the bill. For bill summary go to:

Mercury Levels Still High in Virginia River Fish

by ENS, RICHMOND, Virginia

8th March 2006

The amount of mercury in fish collected in 2005 from the South River and South Fork Shenandoah River has not changed significantly since 2002, according to a report issued today by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Many fish species continue to have mercury levels of 0.5 parts per million or higher, which is the action level set by the Virginia Department of Health.

“The health of the South and South Fork Shenandoah rivers is vitally important to Virginia, and DEQ is dedicated to ensuring that people’s exposure to mercury is as low as possible,” DEQ Director David Paylor said. “The good news is that stocked trout from the South River are still safe to eat.”

Mercury levels in rainbow trout stocked in the South River in fall 2004 are no higher than 0.1 ppm, and these trout remain below the level of concern.

Mercury was used by Du Pont Co. in Waynesboro in fiber production between 1929 and 1950. Mercury contamination in the South River was discovered in the 1970s and now extends to the South Fork Shenandoah River.

In a settlement between Du Pont and the State Water Control Board in 1984, Du Pont established a trust fund to support a 100 year monitoring program for mercury. DEQ manages the fund.

Most of the fish with elevated mercury had averages ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 parts per million, the agency reports. Mercury levels are highest in the South River between Dooms in Augusta County and Grottoes in Rockingham County where mercury averages ranged from 1.36 to 2.66 ppm.

DEQ collected smallmouth bass, white sucker and redbreast sunfish at collection stations along the South River, South Fork Shenandoah River and the Shenandoah River in spring 2005. The agency also collected stocked rainbow trout near Waynesboro and Grottoes along the South River.

The existing fish consumption advisories from the Virginia Department of Health remain unchanged. Only stocked trout should be eaten from the South River.

From Port Republic to Front Royal, no more than two meals per month of fish should be eaten from the South Fork Shenandoah. North of Front Royal, carp, channel catfish and white sucker from the South Fork Shenandoah and Shenandoah rivers should not be eaten due to a PCB advisory, and no more than two meals per month of other species should be eaten.

DEQ monitors mercury contamination in collaboration with the South River Science Team, of which DEQ is a member. This group’s long-term goal is to manage and reduce the risk from mercury in the river. DEQ will sample fish tissue, water quality and sediments from the South, South Fork and Shenandoah rivers in 2007 during the next phase of its extensive mercury monitoring effort.

Citizens fight mining companies carving off mountaintops

by DIANA NELSON JONES, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

1st March 2006

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Maria Gunnoe's voice echoed beneath the West Virginia Capitol rotunda. A small woman with cascading hair, she stood almost on her toes.

"Please listen up," she said. "Our wells, our land, our homes, our culture, our very lives are being threatened. Will it take a tragedy for us to be heard?"

She was preaching to the choir. It was E-Day, Feb. 14, and Gunnoe was speaking to more than 150 people from West Virginia environmental organizations that for years have rallied, protested and sued to fight mountaintop coal removal.

The main benefit of coal mining is obvious - well-paying jobs in poor rural places - but the drawbacks make up a lot of the "almost" that separates West Virginia from heaven.

Coal companies are clear-cutting timber and blasting away mountain peaks. They are filling valleys with leftover rocks, trees and soil. They are injecting coal sludge into abandoned underground mines or storing it in man-made impoundment ponds, many of which perch high above people's homes.

Metals churned up and stored behind earthen dams can leach into ground and well water. Deforested hills erode quickly and accelerate flooding. Impoundment reservoirs have been known to collapse with catastrophic consequences - most notoriously in 1972 when Buffalo Creek in Logan County was inundated and 125 people lost their lives.

As a result, in a state that has bred some of the country's most storied citizen battles against the powers that be, mountaintop mining has matured as a galvanizing issue in West Virginia.

The first mountaintop in West Virginia was mined in 1966. By 2000, some 13,000 acres had been cleared. As of 2004, 70 of West Virginia's 544 coal mines involved mountaintop removal, accounting for 26 percent of the 153.6 million tons of coal produced in the state, according to the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.

"The pace is unbelievable," said Ben Stout, an aquatic biologist at Wheeling Jesuit College who has studied waste impoundments and the effects of blasting near mountaintop sites. "These guys can drill 30 feet and blast it off every day."

When the famous Mother Jones organized miners in the late 19th century and the United Mine Workers stood against federal troops in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, the fight was over long hours, low pay and exceedingly dangerous working conditions underground. Hired guns killed people accused as rabble-rousers.

Today, the battles are mostly legal as mountaintop mining opponents focus mostly on safety and environmental degradation. But they retain a David v. Goliath character.

Massey Energy Co., whose subsidiaries operate many of the coal mines that concern environmentalists in West Virginia, is the leading coal producer in the state Virginia and the fourth largest in the country, with annual revenues of more than $2 billion.

Repeated calls to Massey's spokesperson in Charleston last week went unreturned.

But Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, defended mountaintop mining and the people who do it. "They are proud of what they do, and they live in the areas where they work, where they fished and hunted as children.

"A minimal percentage of land is disturbed by all types of mining," he said. Mountaintop removal is "a responsible method of mining, recognized in state and federal surface mining acts. It is a methodical, well-engineered, sophisticated method and it does its best to protect the environment. ... There's not a drop of water that doesn't go through treatment."

Raney allowed that mountaintop mining may result in "a reduction in elevation," but proponents consider this a win-win - coal gets extracted and West Virginia gets valuable pieces of flat real estate.

"Level land is such a rare commodity that it's a shame not to coordinate future development" with mountaintop removal, Raney said.

On its Web site, Massey Energy Co. cites such successes: the Big Sandy Airport in Prestonsburg, Ky., the FBI Fingerprinting compound in Harrison County and a high school, a shopping mall, an industrial park and golf course.

The dangers of mountaintop removal usually do not present horrifying dramas featuring a rescue team, a ticking clock and a countable number of lives at stake. And you can't even see most of West Virginia's topless mountains unless you board a plane or drive to the top of a peak with a view.

But according to Vivian Stockman, an organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Council, "We're fooling ourselves if we think the only safety issues are in underground mines. Over the last several years, at least 12 people have died in floods exacerbated by mountaintop removal." (The number is based on accounts from local newspapers since 2000.)

Every stream in West Virginia is under an official fish-consumption advisory because of mercury contamination.

And claims that safety rules are being followed do not allay fears.

Impoundments have broken many times and predate mountaintop removal. The Buffalo Creek disaster, which killed 125 people 34 years ago, is the best known. Days of heavy rain collapsed a dam and two impoundments holding 132 million gallons of slurry. The force of the spill, seven feet of water per second, washed away more than 4,000 homes and a dozen towns.

The Environmental Protection Agency called an impoundment failure in 2000 near Inez, Kentucky, "the worst environmental disaster in the southeastern United States."

Just after midnight, slurry from a 306 million gallon impoundment inundated an active underground mine and flowed out of two openings. No one was killed, but Wolf Creek and Coldwater Fork were seriously contaminated.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration determined that the coal company had "failed to follow its approved impoundment sealing plan."

In a 2004 study on well water quality in Mingo County, aquatic biologist Ben Stout took 15 samples and reported seven heavy metals in excess of water-quality standards, including lead, arsenic, barium, beryllium and selenium.

Dr. Dewey Sanderson, professor and chair of the Department of Geology at Marshall University in Huntington, said regulations aimed at ensuring safe containment of coal waste are "fairly strict," providing they are followed.

"I think the laws are there to minimize the hazard, but there are laws that say you're only allowed to drive 70 on the interstate, and many people speed."

By its nature, crushed coal mixed with water releases heavy metals, much as coffee grounds release the flavor of coffee and coffee beans don't, he said.

"When we mine coal, we are speeding up a process that naturally would take thousands of years to just a couple of years. I guess that's the downside of progress."

Compared to the rolling mountains in northern West Virginia, Boone County's mountains poke straight into the sky like steeples. Boone leads all counties in coal production and in mountaintop removals.

So it is probably no coincidence that Boone County has contributed many activists to the dozen-plus nonprofit groups that form the West Virginia Environmental Council, or E-Council. Its members are seeking injunctive relief, challenging permit applications, bringing lawsuits, holding protests and rallies and lobbying the state legislature.

Gunnoe, who spoke during E-Day at the Capitol, lives in Bob White, Boone County, on 40 acres below a 1,183-acre mountaintop removal site and two sediment control ponds. She is suing Jupiter Coal for damages she attributes to blasting, erosion and flooding.

Her garage is shifting, her front yard is sinking and five acres of her land has been washed away, she said.

"You don't come into a culture of people and say, 'You can move if you don't like it,' " she said. "This has been my family's home since the 1700s. I don't owe them anything and they just take and take."

Many activists occupy what Appalacians call "homeplaces," where their families have lived for generations. They are women as often as men, and many are elderly. They are long-time environmentalists, a smattering of young, novice organizers and people who have loved and buried miners.

In Whitesville, Freda Hudson Williams, who helped organize the Communications Workers of America in the 1940s and protested against strip mining in 1968, lives on her late-husband's family land and has been a complainant in several cases against Massey subsidiaries.

She currently is opposing Marfork Coal's permit request to remove 24 seams of coal near the Brushy Fork slurry impoundment, one of the nation's largest earthen dams.

"It's just across this mountain," she said, pointing out her kitchen window.

In a letter to Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., last month, she wrote, "Please take into consideration that there is no emergency evacuation plan."

In nearby Sylvester, Pauline Canterberry and Mary Miller are 70-somethings who call themselves the "dust busters."

In 1997, they led a petition drive to keep Massey's Elk Run Mining Co. from building a coal preparation plant. They presented the state Department of Environmental Protection with 51 letters in opposition from a town of 195 people.

The plant went into operation the following year. Within a month, the women said, the town was covered in coal dust. They have appealed to the DEP, the Office of Surface Mining, legislators and the media. In 2001, with others in Sylvester, they filed suit against Elk Run for damages.

"This house is appraised at $12,000," said Mrs. Miller, whose large, handsome brick home would fit nicely in Highland Park or Squirrel Hill. "That's not enough for burial expenses."

"What I got in life I got honestly" said her sidekick, whose husband and father both mined and died of black lung. "I'm glad they're not here to see what this kind of mining is doing to our home. This is not the American way."

En EEUU destruyen las montañas para extraer carbón barato, pero atentan contra el ecosistema y amenazan la economía

Por John Conner

Traducción: Ernesto Carmona (especial para


La minería del carbón está destruyendo las cimas de las montañas de EEUU volándolas con dinamita en vez de utilizar mano de obra minera, mucho más cara. Cumbres que la tierra y la naturaleza forjaron en cientos de millones de años desaparecen de un plumazo a cambio de unas pocas toneladas de carbón más barato.

La técnica consiste en destapar las cúspides para extraer el carbón que está más abajo, aprovechando las ventajas de la ausencia de regulación o la desidia de los reguladores, pero destruyendo la biodiversidad, las fuentes de agua, devastando ecosistemas y dejando de recuerdo un gran agujero estéril.

Esta nueva forma de explotación de la hulla "destapando" las cimas con dinamita en beneficio exclusivo de las compañías carboníferas y el sistema de generación eléctrica es conocida por la sigla en inglés MTR, que significa Remoción de Tope de Montañas. La remoción de las cúspides trae consigo la destrucción de los cursos de agua y del medio ambiente, además de grandes perjuicios para las comunidades.

Los dinamitazos afectan la línea divisoria de las aguas, a la vez que descuartizan las montañas. Con esta práctica, sólo en Virginia Occidental han sido destruidos más de 1.600 km de cauces de agua. Asimismo, las represas de masas de sedimento ponen en peligro a comunidades enteras, que a la vez son afectadas por los efectos de las explosiones directas.

Según Fred Mooney, activista de un grupo conservacionista del oeste de Virginia, la MTR es una práctica minera ecocida que refleja la codicia de las compañías del carbón. Utilizando alrededor de una tonelada diaria de dinamita, derriban grandes porciones de la montaña para extraer una cantidad moderada de carbóna. Además, descargan la basura en valles y cauces de ríos. "La combinación de estos factores mata eficazmente todo ecosistemaa, dijo.

La dinamita también destruye el empleo

La mayoría de los estados autoriza estas explotaciones mineras bajo la ley de "Control de Minería de Superficie". El sistema MTR intenta ahora extenderse a la montaña Zeb, en Tennessee, estado en que la minería tuvo tan pobres rendimientos desde los años 70 que las autoridades estadales renunciaron al control que ahora quedó a cargo de una agencia federal llamada Office of Surface Minning. Esta innovación permitió a los activistas presentar un recurso intentando detener el MTR en las cortes federales.

La industria hullera acuñó muchos nombres menos amenazadores para el retiro de las cimas, tales como minería de gama cruzada, minería de superficie y otros eufemismos. Más allá de su nombre, MTR es la forma más perniciosas concebida por el negocio minero, porque arruina para siempre las montañas. El uso de dinamita resulta más barato que emplear mineros, quienes han perdido más de 40.000 puestos de trabajo solamente en Virginia Occidental.

El alto precio del petróleo favorece la demanda de la hulla. Las empresas eléctricas planean construir 93 nuevas plantas generadoras de carbón a través de EEUU, sin que exista ningún plan para utilizar energía eólica o solar. Por lo tanto, el camino está abierto para las compañías de carbón y el MTR, resistido por grupos como ¡Tierra Primero! de Katuah (KEF, según su sigla en inglés).

El carbón extraído de la montaña Zeb está siendo quemado en el mismo valle de Tennessee, provocando continuo daño ambiental.¡KEF! se esfuerza por difundir el ecocidio y llamar la atención hacia los responsables de la depredación, la Autoridad del Valle del Tennessee y la Oficina de Minería de Superficie.¡KEF! subrayó que "el retiro de las cimas de montaña exhibe los designios globales de las corporaciones para someter a las comunidades, acelera la homogeneización de las culturas locales y exacerba el consumo en una sociedad derrochadoraa.

¿Reguladores o lobbystas?

Cuatro agencias federales revisan las regulaciones sobre las minas de carbón para llegar a un acuerdo que daría a los gobiernos de los estados la facultad de acelerar el proceso. El Cuerpo de Ingenieros del Ejército, la Agencia de Protección Medio Ambiental, el Servicio de Pesca y Fauna y la Oficina de Minería de Superficie están poniéndose de acuerdo para facilitar los permisos de explotación de minas de carbón superficiales, incluyendo el pavoroso sistema MTR. (1)

Los grupos ambientales comenzaron a desafiar estas políticas en las cortes federales de distrito. Las normas vigentes permiten que el Cuerpo de Ingenieros del Ejército emita un permiso general para una categoría de actividades bajo la Ley Agua Limpia si causa sólo efectos ambientales adversos mínimos. Las compañías enseguida buscan autorizaciones individualesa en el mismo Cuerpo para otros proyectos que no recibieron el permiso general. (2)

Según la administración Bush, un magistrado federal "sobrepasó su autoridad" al bloquear un permiso de nuevas remociones de cimas de montañas. Los abogados del Cuerpo de Ingenieros apelaron en julio 2004 ante el juez de distrito Joseph R. Goodwin. Los abogados de la industria criticaron su decisión como "desmantelamiento injustificado" del sistema de permisos MTR, aduciendo que las regulaciones dependían ahora de los jueces federales del sur oeste de Virginia. (3)

El 15 de agosto de 2005 un grupo de activistas ecológicos se encadenó a los equipos de perforación para bloquear con sus cuerpos el acceso de la compañía National Coal Corp. a una mina a cielo abierto en las montañas Apalache, a 64 kilómetros al norte de Knoxville. Fue un hito más en una campaña que aspira a conmover al ámbito nacional, pero no recibe cobertura más allá de los medios locales.

Actualización de John Conner: La destrucción de las líneas divisoria de las aguas en las montañas constituye un crimen contra el futuro mismo. Las Montañas Apalaches son las de mayor diversidad del mundo. Areas increíblemente ricas en biodiversidad se están convirtiendo en el equivalente biológico de un estacionamiento de automóviles, en una "solución final" para montañas de 200 millones de años. Puesto que la dinamita es más barata que la gente, MTR ha destruido los sindicatos mineros de Virginia Occidental, las presas que almacenan los sedimentos amenazan con sepultar comunidades enteras, se destruyen las fuentes de agua y los pozos comienzan a secarse. También es una forma de genocidio cultural que conduce a la gente de montaña a destruir por sí misma sus propias colinas.

Hubo un impacto directo en Marsh Fork Elementary, donde una gigantesca represa de sedimentos asoma sobre la escuela primaria. Más de 18 personas fueron arrestadas por desobediencia civil no-violenta al intentar proteger a los niños de esa escuela. Además, Mountain Justice Summer ha comenzado una campaña conjunta con Redwood and Mississippi Summers, para que el pueblo de toda Norte América venga a nuestra región a ayudarnos a defender nuestras montañas.

Cuando explotaron los depósitos de carbón del condado Martin, en 2001, lanzaron 20 veces más volúmenes de contaminantes sobre una comunidad que el derrame provocado por la Exxon Valdez, pero la industria hullera impidió con éxito que se conociera la noticia. La industria hullera es increíblemente poderosa y existe un techo de cristal para que nuestras noticias no lleguen muy lejos. La información sobre la gente que cometió desobediencia civil por la primera vez en la historia de Virginia Occidental para resistir el MTR fue publicada por la agencia de noticias Associated Press, pero no la tomó ninguno de los grandes medios más allá de Virginia Occidental.

Quienes tengan interés en este tema encontrarán más información en, que contiene links, fotografías y noticias de actividades estados por estado. Allí se puede suscribir nuestro boletín electrónico de noticias y descubrir como el arrasamiento de las cimas de las montañas ataca en todo el territorio de EEUU.

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