Maria Gunnoe and Bo Webb provide testimony at Congressional Hearing in Charleston

This morning the Congressional hearing concerning the impact of Mountain Top Removal on water quality. 2009 North American Goldman Prize Winner Maria Gunnoe, and Bo Webb provided testimony at the hearing on behalf of the people of Appalachia.

I am a native West Virginian. I and my family before me have lived the history that the coal industry has left in its path. We settled this area before coal was discovered. I am a Daughter of the American Revolution. Throughout all the “boom and bust”, manmade catastrophes, and massive deaths and sicknesses some members of my family tell their generational part of coal’s history in Southern Appalachia. This history is one of the many lessons of life we learned at a young age growing up in these communities. We learned from our hard schooled fathers and grandfathers that coal is mean and one thing you simply could not do was to trust this industry. No matter what the subject the conversation always come down to the coal company’s bottom line. All my life every political move has always been directed at propping up the coal industry in WV.

The fear that we as Appalachians have experienced throughout time of being without jobs is nothing compared to the fear of living without healthy, clean water in our streams and homes. We as families for many generations have survived some of the most historically horrible poverty in this country by sustaining our lives from these mountains and streams. The biodiversity in S WV is what created the culture of the real mountaineers that we grew up being. Now rule changes such as Stream Buffer Zone threaten to permanently annihilate all that supports the real mountaineer’s culture. The coal industry obviously wants to bury and pollute all of our water and all of who we are for temporary jobs. Jobs in surface mining are dependent on blowing up the next mountain and burying the next stream. When are we going to say enough is enough?

The Buffer Zone Rule from the Regan era was historically was intended as a good thing for people who lived in the valleys where these intermittent and perennial streams flow. Over the years it has been crooked politics and coal money influence that has gutted the intent of this law. In my lifetime I do not know of this law ever being fully enforced. The coal industry and the politicians have for most of my life manipulated and twisted the law in order to legally break this law by destroying our valuable headwater streams.. Surface mining has demolished our quality of life and life expectancy in our native homes. Our communities are now war zones with constant blasting, pollution and all area surface mining has stolen our ability to recreate in the mountains and do what we culturally always have. We are being shut out of areas that we have always enjoyed. Even our historic cemeteries are left in accessible to the public.

Bo Webb:

Let us not forget, President Ronald Reagan, your president, my president, in 1983 created the Stream Buffer Zone Rule because he realized the responsibility he had to protect America’s water supply in the face of an industry that was moving more rapidly toward a method of mining that would turn entire mountains into ruin and destroy head water source streams that carry drinking water to millions of Americans. This committee now shares that responsibility because just before leaving his office President George W Bush with the stroke of a pen trashed the Reagan SBZ rule as a present to a coal industry that wills itself to increase profit at all cost, even at the cost of human health.
To date there are 19 peer reviewed science papers addressing human health in mountaintop removal communities. Here are a few of the titles: None have been scientifically refuted!!! Science does not allow a choice of preference, what to believe, what not to believe. You either believe in science or choose to put your head in the sand and revert to the dark ages. With some of the rhetoric coming from the coal industry today, one must wonder about their acceptance of modern science and living in the 21st century. One of the coal industry’s more recent comments on the alarming birth defects research in mountaintop removal communities is that the research did not take into account those of us living in mountaintop removal communities are a bunch of inbreeds. Perhaps they need to look inside their own gene pool. It is a scientific fact that inbreeding can account for ignorance and low IQ’s.
Mountaintop removal is an unprecedented form of coal extraction. Nearly a million acres of forested mountains have been obliterated. 2000 miles or more of headwater sources streams have been contaminated and countless water wells have been rendered unsafe for human consumption. Mountaintop removal has been in full stride now for only 15-20 years and already we are witnessing the short term effects of human exposure to this mad method of mining. What will be the long term effects?
Statistical research on Appalachian birth defects has found that a woman pregnant has a 42% greater chance of a baby born with birth defects than a pregnant woman living in a non mountaintop removal community. Equate that to cigarette smoking: a baby born in a mountaintop removal community has a 181% greater chance of a heart or lung birth defect, while the risk related to mother’s smoking was only 17% higher. That, “honorable” committee members is staggering. If that does not get your attention, then you have sold your very heart and soul. Your pro life claim is no longer credible; it’s false, and transparent. You stand on your bloody pulpit claiming to be pro life, yet allow our babies to be poisoned, disregarded like yesterdays garbage! A dog has more rights and protection than an unborn baby in a mountaintop removal community!
I ask each of you in the name of our great Nation to put politics aside, stand up for what is right, protect our citizens and do not oppose any change to the current SBZ rule that will help protect American lives. At the very least, support it being rolled back to the Reagan rule with total enforcement.
Let us be reminded, regulatory agencies are created to protect The People from industries that may cause harm to The People. When these agencies, or legislators for that matter, become indentured servants to those they oversee, or their power to regulate is circumvented by acts such as the Bush trashing of the SBZ rule, The People are not well served, America is not well served. Please remember this each and every waking moment of your service to our country. Our future, our children’s future, and our lives depend on it.


Jeff Biggers is the American Book Award-winning author of Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (Nation/Basic Books), among other books. Visit his website:

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One Response to Maria Gunnoe and Bo Webb provide testimony at Congressional Hearing in Charleston

  1. Walt says:

    From what I’ve read so far it seems like the environmental bunch embarrassed themselves at the hearing.

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