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Mountaintop Mining Threatens One of America’s Best White Water Rivers

The Charleston Gazette’s tireless Ken Ward Jr. notes today that, in southern West Virginia, mountaintop removal mining is threatening more than wildlife and drinking water; it’s also jeopardizing one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state.

The Gauley River, among the top white water rafting destinations on the East Coast — and one estimated to bring the state $16 million each year — is now among the most imperiled rivers in the country as a result of the mountaintop coal mining in its watershed, according to American Rivers, an environmental group that ranks the nation’s most endangered rivers each year.

For 2010, the Gauley ranks third, behind only the Upper Delaware River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The reason?

Mountaintop removal mining has buried nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams, contaminated drinking water, impaired water quality for river recreation, increased water treatment costs for industry, displaced some communities and increased susceptibility to flooding for others. Despite escalating environmental and community costs, more mountaintop removal mining projects have been proposed to access the remaining coal seams in Appalachia.

Ward points out the congressional angle to this tale:

In 1988, the Gauley received some federal protections as the Gauley River National Recreation Area, under legislation pushed through by Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va. Rahall, though, has opposed EPA’s efforts to crack down on pollution from mountaintop removal mining.

Indeed, in February, Rahall single-handedly took credit for blocking legislation to prevent mining companies from burying Appalachian streams with mine waste.

“I blocked it,” he told the Beckley-based Register-Herald.

“I kept [supporters] from even having a hearing on it. It would have passed Congress overwhelmingly. It was a freebie. Republicans would have voted to end mountaintop removal.”

Since it’s not an issue in their districts, he said, “they’d have voted to abolish it in a heartbeat.”

Another means of wiping out the practice would be to amend the surface mining and reclamation law which Rahall authored in his first year in Congress in 1977.

“Guess where that has to go?” Rahall asked, according to the Register-Herald. “The Natural Resources Committee.

“Guess who’s chairman? Me.”

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