December 11, 2007

Treading water: Activists and state representatives try to protect streams from mining waste

A bill languishing in the bowels of the state capital would protect Kentucky’s headwater streams from being buried under the rubble produced by mining operations. Three years after House Bill 385 was introduced, some residents of Eastern Kentucky and concerned environmentalists throughout the state would now be happy just to see it debated. The Stream Saver bill, as it is called, would mandate that mining waste be kept onsite or transferred to an alternative mine site, keeping it out of nearby streams that now serve as dumpsites for mountaintop removal mining operations. Actually, the language is quite similar to existing federal law, which coal companies circumvented in 2001 after successful lobbying efforts helped to officially change their “waste” to “fill,” from illegal to legal.The Stream Saver bill is clearly an attempt to rectify what many see as an egregious abuse of the law, and has been met with equally blatant disregard by the chairman of the agriculture and environmental resources committee, Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence. But supporters and activists at Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a social justice organization and the state’s most prominent MTR critic, worry that the bill will never see the light of day as long as the committee chair is a coal sympathizer — especially one who gained national attention last month for conducting a panel to debunk global warming, sans scientists. Gooch could not be reached for comment for this story, but KFTC member Teri Blanton said the group is looking past him to House leadership to help revive the bill.“The whole bottom line is, leadership decides to which committee a bill will go,” said Blanton. In its continuing efforts to alert Kentuckians to MTR’s negative effects on people and their environment, KFTC took 10 members of the House appropriations and revenue committee — which they hope might be able to address the Stream Saver bill in a slightly different form — on a tour of mining sites, and introduced them to residents opposed to the dangerous, environmentally destructive practice occurring in their communities. Rep. Harry Moberly Jr., D-Richmond, worked with KFTC to arrange the tour for his fellow committee members, including a few who also serve on the as-yet unresponsive agriculture and natural resources committee. He intends to reintroduce the bill during the next legislative session, which begins next month. Other members shared their impressions with LEO after the tour. Their comments have been edited for space. Contact the writer at jennifer@leoweekly.com