The Civic Center’s
Little Theater doors opened at 5:00,
and by 5:30 coal supporters filled
almost half of the theater’s more than 700 seats. By the time the meeting
started at 7, the theater was packed, and a crowd of coal supporters stood
outside with signs.
Tuesday’s hearing in Charleston
coincided with two others—in Kentucky
and Tennessee—all to discuss the
Army Corps’ proposal to do away with or modify the nationwide permit.
This form of general permit streamlines the permitting
process for valley fills. These nationwide permits are supposed to be for
uncontroversial valley fills that have only minimum cumulative adverse impacts
on stream quality.
But in June, the Corps announced that it was considering
doing away with the permit, because now there are so many mountaintop removal
sites the agency fears the environmental impacts are more than minimal.
Meg Gaffney-Smith is the chief of the regulatory branch at
the Corps Washington DC headquarters.
“There was nothing in particular that sparked it, but we
believe there may be an opportunity to evaluate these types of activities
through a more rigorous public involvement process, through an individual
permit process,” she said, “rather than through a nationwide permit, general
permit process which does not involve public involvement.”
But most of the people gathered at Tuesday’s meeting didn’t want to discuss the
nationwide permitting process.
Instead, mining supporters stood and spoke,
emphasizing West Virginia’s
reliance on the coal industry. Those that mentioned the nationwide permit said
a change to the permitting process would mean death to mining.
Many, like Sen. Truman Chafin (D-Mingo) spoke out against
the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The Lord didn’t create many things without a purpose,” he
said. “But mosquitoes and the EPA come close, I think.”
John Hardin said coal miners have turned in more than 20,000
petitions in to the federal government in favor of mountaintop removal.
“If you all do away with this provision, you will not shut
down mountaintop removal; you will totally shut down mining,” he said. “Because
the tipples cannot have a pond, there will be no refuge place to put it; there
will be no mining and you all will have to feed us!”
But others focused their anger at environmentalists, whose actions they feel
have been forcing the Obama Administration to scrutinize coal mining.
Diane Kish introduced herself as part of four generations of
“Please stop playing with our ground; leave our children’s
future in West Virginia,” she
said. “You that don’t agree, leave our state with your mayflies, lizards, frogs
and whatever else!”
After an hour, the first environmentalist was called on to
speak--Goldman Environmental Prize winner Maria Gunnoe. She was booed and
heckled throughout her speech.
“I would like to commend the Army Corps of Engineers for
their decision to do away with this type of permit,” she said. “This permit is
being misused. This permit is being used for massive valley fills in the areas
where I live at. And this permit is being used because it takes the people out
of the process.”
When Joe Stanley, a retired coal miner, tried to speak he was drowned out too.
He asked the panel of Corps officials to give him his full three minutes to
“Before I start, I would just like to say that it’s not fair
to interrupt these people whether you agree or disagree,” he said. “And if I’m
interrupted, I expect my time to be corrected.”
The panel of Army Corps officials repeatedly asked the audience to be
respectful, but were ignored. And despite his plea, Stanley
was cut off by the buzzer after three minutes.
There will be three more hearings tomorrow in Pennsylvania,
Ohio and Virginia.