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Central Appalachia Asks EPA to Clean Up "Dirty" Water

PHOTO: Citizens in central Appalachia are calling on the EPA to clean up "dirty water" caused by surface mining. Courtesy Alex DeSha.
PHOTO: Citizens in central Appalachia are calling on the EPA to clean up "dirty water" caused by surface mining. Courtesy Alex DeSha.
April 22, 2013

WHITESBURG, Ky. - Kentuckians who live in central Appalachia say they have a problem with dirty water and they don't think the state is doing enough to clean it up. So, they've joined residents of three neighboring states - Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia - on visits to regional EPA offices to ask for help.

Alex DeSha, a national Sierra Club "Beyond Coal Campaign" staffer from Whitesburg, went to Atlanta to deliver the message that widespread surface mining is contaminating water in eastern Kentucky.

"What we're seeing from the state is the systematic failure to properly administer their own water quality program," he declared.

DeSha lives in the Big Sandy River basin, where he said 92 percent of the river is impaired by resource extraction, adding that the state is not holding coal companies accountable.

A state lawmaker and Kentucky's Energy and Environment Secretary also met with the EPA in March, seeking what they referred to as a "much more even-handed" relationship with that federal agency.

Secretary Len Peters said Kentucky's coal region needs what he calls "rational environmental regulatory options" from the federal government for access "to reliable, affordable energy."

However, Terri Blanton of Berea, who grew up in the coal fields of eastern Kentucky, isn't happy with what she sees as an overly-cozy relationship between the state and the coal industry.

"It's our water that's being destroyed, and someone's not watching the store," she charged.

According to Blanton, she and citizens from her community delivered mining maps and water reports to EPA officials and even brought them a water sample.

"We had a bottle of water there that was just as orange as orange Kool-Aid and just filled with stuff, and it came out of a community person's well," Blanton said.

The citizens are operating under the umbrella of a coalition called Appalachia Rising. It's an effort in four states to stop mountaintop removal mining.

Alex DeSha said the group wants the EPA to issue a rule setting conductivity limits in water. He explained that conductivity is a general indicator of pollutants.

"You know, the Environmental Protection Agency conducted scientific studies that found that high levels of conductivity are the primary cause of water quality impairments downstream from valley fills and other mining operations," DeSha said.

He said the visits to regional EPA offices are the opening of a campaign to increase pressure on the Obama administration to do more about water pollution in central Appalachia.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY