CHARLESTON, W.V. — Protesters associated with Climate Ground Zero blocked the entrance to the headquarters of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today. Joe Hamsher, 23, and Sarah Seeds, 60, are chained to a concrete-filled metal barrel that is blocking the entrance to the parking lot of the DEP office complex in Charleston. The activists painted the following statement on the barrel: “Department of Easy Permits: Closed.”
The human rights activists staged the sit-in in order to bring attention to what they believe is the DEP’s failure to enforce the Clean Water Act by permitting mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia.
“The DEP is taking part in sins of permission,” said Seeds. “Permitting mountaintop removal is permitting the poisoning of this bioregion.”
The protesters specifically sought to shed light on the DEP’s new permitting guidance for implementing water quality standards in the coalfields, which it announced earlier this month. The new permitting guidance, the protesters said, is meant to circumvent the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) much stricter water quality standards, thus paving the way for continued pollution of West Virginia’s waterways by coal operators.
“There is no way to operate a mountaintop removal mine without violating the Clean Water Act. Even Don Blankenship admitted that in Charleston when he debated Robert Kennedy” said West Virginia native Joe Hamsher. “The DEP ought to step up and do their job by enforcing the Clean Water Act. But instead, Randy Huffman, and his boss Joe Manchin, try to find loopholes around it.”
According to the Charleston Gazette in an article published on August 12, the DEP’s new permitting guidance is a direct response to the EPA’s decision in April to more strictly regulate the amount of chlorides, sulfides and heavy metals that coal operators are allowed to dump in West Virginia’s streams and rivers.
Upon announcing the new guidelines, DEP secretary Randy Huffman called on the EPA to give deference to its new policy. “We trust the EPA will give deference to West Virginia’s guidance document, as it was created to satisfy outlines in the Clean Water Act,” Huffman said.
On August 13, however, the EPA responded to the DEP in a public statement that reaffirmed the federal agency’s regulatory authority over the DEP and promised a review of the DEP’s new permitting guidance.
“We look forward to reviewing West Virginia’s new water quality guidance,” wrote the EPA. “In the meantime, the EPA’s guidance stands and we will continue to use it to ensure that mining permits issued in West Virginia and other Appalachian states provide the protection required under federal law.”
Meanwhile, activists with Climate Ground Zero say they will continue to do everything they can to hold accountable the government agencies that permit mountaintop removal mining.
“DEP will be held accountable for its crimes against West Virginia,” said Hamsher.
In addition to putting pressure on the DEP, Climate Ground Zero and its allies will be gathering in Washington D.C. on September 25 through September 27 for Appalachia Rising, a mass mobilization to call for an end to mountaintop removal mining and bring the issue to the national stage.