Mountain Top Removal – Interview with Barbara Strangfeld

Some of you may remember the interview I did with Barbara Strangfeld on my forum. I’d intended for that interview to stay up so people could always access it, but when I took the forum down, it disappeared. I’m reprinting it now on my blog in its entirety so that others who didn’t get to read it the first time can still learn about this important issue.

Just a note Рthis interview was originally conducted just before the 2008 election. Questions came not only from me, but from participants on the forum as well. Here it is:

Q: Hi Barbara, Welcome! Thanks for stopping in to answer our questions about Mountain Top Removal. To start with, would you give people a basic idea of what mountain top removal is and why you’re leading the fight against it?

A: Hi to all! Thanks so much Kelly for the opportunity to talk about Mountaintop Removal Mining (MTR). This is a very, very environmentally destructive form of coal mining which does not utilize miners in the traditional sense. Think of layers of coal in a mountain like a seven-layer-cake. Rather than send miners underground to remove this coal, MTR literally blows off the cake layer (the mountain), extracts the icing (the coal) and then dumps the cake waste (mountain waste) into the valley below clogging up rivers and streams, causing flooding and toxic pollution of the streams. Before this is done, the mountain is clear-cut of all timber and the timber is burned or thrown into the valley below as well, killing and wasting trees. When you are finished, the majestic mountaintop is completely gone and you have instead a lunar-like landscape. Our Appalachian Mountains, a national treasure, are being ruined as I write this. I encourage everyone to visit www.ilovemountains.org to see it for themselves, to learn more about this awful destruction and how they can help stop it.

I got involved in this effort after learning about MTR from a volunteer from Appalachian Voices who gave a presentation at a nearby church. The presentation was given in April of 2007 – the day after the Virigina Tech Massacre. The presenter, Benjamin Burrell, was a graduate of Virginia Tech. He had given up an opportunity for a highly paid job to work for Appalachian Voices because he felt so strongly about the need to end MTR. Right before his presentation, Benjamin received a phone call confirming that his friend, Julia Pryde, who had previously worked as a volunteer to stop Mountain Top Removal Mining, was a victim of the Virginia Tech Massacre.

In January of 2006 I was in a very serious automobile accident when my car hit a patch of black ice, so they told me where to find a car accident attorney for this case. It was a miracle I survived. After the accident, I often wondered why some of us survive and others are taken from us. But when I heard about Julia, I knew I had to do something for her. I did not have her youth, her considerable talent or her energy but I did have a voice and I could be a “Voice for the Mountains”. In Julia’s honor, I promised myself that I would dedicate myself to encouraging others to be a “Voice for the Mountains” until we had a big enough choir to stop MTR once and for all!

Q: That’s a wonderful response to such a horrible tragedy… what’s even more amazing is that you never met Julia, yet you were still moved to provide the voice for a cause she cared about but could no longer speak for. Tell me, why is mountain top removal used? Is it a money issue — this is simply the quickest and cheapest way for the companies to get at the coal? Is the system all automated or are there still people doing this job? Also, what kind of responsibilities do the companies have to replant the landscape?

A: Mountaintop Removal Mining is done because it is quicker and cheaper. The coal that is obtained this way is bituminous or soft coal. It is a softer coal than anthracite and a dirtier coal. Much of the coal obtained through MTR is too dirty to use in the U.S. and is sold overseas to countries where they may not have environmental laws to protect them against the use of this very dirty coal.

Theoretically companies are required to “restore” the landscape but in reality there is minimal restoration. And of course you cannot “re-grow” a mountain. What has been lost, has been lost forever.

There is nothing good about MTR. It is ruining one of our most beautiful national treasures, the Appalachian Voices. It is ruining a culture that has existed in those mountains since before our nation’s founding. That is why it has largely been kept a secret and why it is so important to get the word out.

If you cannot see the devastation in person, the best way to see it is at www.ilovemountains.org where they use Google Earth technology to make the horrors of MTR visible to all.

Q: Is this just happening in Appalachia or does it happen other places as well?

A: Right now MTR is primarily taking place in Appalachia but unfortunately steps have been taken that could lay the groundwork for more widespread use. A very good article to read about this appeared in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/23/us/23coal.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

And thank you for your interest in this issue!

Q: Barbara, would you consider yourself an environmentalist? If so, would you have considered yourself as such before you learned about this issue? How have your views changed since becoming involved?

A: Kelly, that’s a good question. Rather than consider myself an environmentalist, I consider myself an American who loves her country and wants to preserve all that which makes this country so beautiful – in this case our national treasure, the Appalachians.

In getting involved with the fight to end MTR once and for all, I have learned that now, more than ever, it is our responsibility as citizens to stand up and make it happen. It’s not about the “power of positive of non-thinking” as someone recently called it. Just saying things are great, whether it be in reference to the economy, our environment, or foreign policy – doesn’t make it so. We, as citizens, need to be willing to take those steps – and sometimes they are tough steps – to make the necessary policy changes. It’s too easy to fall into the “politics of denial” whereby we just pretend that everything is wonderful.

The good news in all this is that in this country we are truly blessed to have a system whereby we can make those changes through legislation. In this case, anyone – young and old – can do a lot by contacting their Congressional Representative and ask them to sign on as a co-sponsor of HR 2169 – the bill that will put a stop to MTR.

Q: What effect if any do you think the upcoming election will have on this issue?

Q: Do you live in Appalachia?

A: I live in Pennsylvania. To me, this is an issue of national concern. The Appalachians belong to all of us as Americans and it is our responsibility to preserve them. But also the people who live there have asked for our help in saving their home.

I think that the upcoming elections are very important. We need to choose wisely. We need to examine carefully a candidate’s positions on the issues and vote accordingly. It’s not about personality. It’s not about silly things like lipstick. This is not American Idol. The future of our country and the planet is at stake.

Q: Wow, I admit I didn’t know anything about this. Stripping coal from mountains and wrecking the place in the process? I can’t believe this isn’t bigger news. Maybe because it’s only in that one place, or because we want to become “less dependent on foreign oil.” Way to go USA to allow this. As long as we drive our cars and gas is $0.05 cheaper I guess it doesn’t matter that we wreck our own back yard in the process right? I’d love to ask one of the candidates about this… I guess my question would be: How can we make a bigger stink about this? Are there any videos of this happening, or wrecked lakes, or created refuse for that matter that we can post on utube or anything? This just seems crazy.

A: That’s a really great question. If you haven’t visited ilovemountains.org, that’s the first step. You will really be able to get an idea of the devastation from that website. You might also want to visit the website of Appalachian Voices – www.appvoices.org

Also, if you google Moutaintop Removal Mining, you will find quite a bit out there. It’s just not in the mainstream media that much. Most Americans are completely unaware that the Appalachians are being ruined. But this is the way we are getting the word out – by email, by blogs, by podcasts, by texting friends, by forums such as this, by presentations. If everyone just tells two or three friends and emails their Congressional Representative about this – we can end this before it’s too late for the mountains.

Q: Barbara, you mentioned that the people of Appalachia have asked for our help in saving the Appalachian Mountains. What is currently being done to get this specific message out to people? This might be a theme that would get people to come out to a public program at a library in NY state, what do you think?

A: If you call Appalachian Voices at 1-828-262-1540 or email them at outreach@appvoices.org, they will work with you to get a program scheduled for your group by a staff member or local volunteer. They have an excellent program on MTR that I highly recommend.

Q: I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about your podcasting. How did you get started doing the podcasts? Do you record them at home or in a studio? And where do you get your material? Had you ever done any podcasting before?

A: I started doing the podcasting because I was contacted by Joseph Puentes, the very talented producer and director of H2Opodcast.com, who asked if I would be interested in doing something on Mountaintop Removal Mining for his site. Someone had given him my name as a person who did presentations about MTR. He was interested in expanding his podcasting site to include environmental issues such as MTR. I did an initial broadcast which had a good response and then we decided to do a regular podcast which would try to highlight some of the best media pieces on MTR and encourage others to feature MTR in whatever media they were involved in. This became “Voice For the Mountains”, which is now a regular feature on H2Opodcast.com.

While I did not have experience in podcasting, I did have experience in public speaking and as you can see I am very dedicated to ending MTR so I had plenty of motivation to jump right in!

Q: I read that article you posted the link to and it was very informative if somewhat discouraging because it sounds like they may have already passed some legislation about this issue. It was hard to tell from the article and I forgot to look at the date. Is legislation pending or is it decided already?

A: The article was from 2007 and was referring to a clarification of federal regulations that was scheduled to be published. This clarification would aallow MTR to continue and so it has. It was not legislation, but a clarification of an administrative rule change. Basically MTR greatly increased during the current administration because, through an administrative regulation change to the Clean Water Act, they allowed “mining waste” to be dumped into streams by changing a definition of what was previously prohibited. This was done without Congressional approval. Thus they found a loophole in the law so to speak. H.R. 2169, which is pending legislaton in the House of Representatives seeks to close this loophole.

Q: Is there a date when this will get voted on?

A: As of yet, there is no date. But the momentum is growing. There are 149 co-sponsors. Amazing! Right now it has been referred to two key committees: Transportation and Infrastructure, and the Environmental Committees.

A wonderful tracking website for this is: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/issues/bills/

At the bottom of this page you will see that you can choose “H.R.” from a little drop down menu and then in the next space you simply enter the bill number and it will bring up the status of any bill in Congress including H.R. 2169. From the summary it brings up you can then go to a detailed description for even more information. It’s terrific. You can also contact your Representative or Senator about any legislation from there or subscribe to an RSS about the bill, or also subscribe to a general newsletter. All for free. This website is a great tool that all of us as Citizens should be using regularly – it’s quick, easy and incredibly informative.

Q: Thank you so much for answering all our questions thoroughly and patiently. Hopefully many people will read this interview since it stays up from now on… I’m going to leave you with one last question. You’ve mentioned some things that we can do to get the word out, but I want to ask you specifically what young people can do. How can kids and teens influence the political process on this issue and other issues they care about? Again, I so appreciate your time. You’ve been great!

Q: I’d also like to comment that if this type of thing doesn’t get stopped early, it will spread and they can always point back to how it was OK to do it here, and why not in other places. I’m glad for this info here and I also hope lots of people read this so they can see what’s going on.

A: First of all, thanks so much Kelly. I have really enjoyed this week and I also appreciate being able to get the word out about Mountaintop Removal Mining.

I would encourage kids to first study and learn about the issue with the help of Google Earth technology on the ilovemountains.org website with their class, Scout troop, 4H Group or with their friends.

After doing this:

Call your Congressional Representative and make an appointment with their local office for your group. At the appointment explain how important stopping MTR is to you and encourage your Rep to co-sponsor HR 2169. If they have already done so, thank them and ask them to get at least one of their fellow Representatives to join them in co-sponsoring.

If you blog, then mention MTR in your blog. Email and text your friends. Talk to your parents and encourage them to write their Representative in Congress.

The Appalachians are too precious to lose! We can all be a Voice for the Mountains!

Q: I read the ongoing discussion here with interest, and find the information and the links timely; I am hopeful that, after we have put a Democrat [who is not first and foremost a friend to big business] back into the office of President, we will see greater concern for the environment of the United States and a strengthening of laws that will protect environmental resources now and in our future; it was no great surprise to also read in papers across the country today that Palin’s true environmental colors are being exposed, e.g. she recently used her political office to support mining interests [in Alaska] who want to build a large open-pit gold/copper mine and a very large dam to hold back mine waste right next to Bristol Bay, which is one of the largest salmon waters in Alaska; she has also urged her state legislators not to change/toughen laws that allow mine waste toxicity in waters in Alaska; the same basic issues surrounding MTR and the same position as current Administration; “we need change” …..

A: Getting involved – whatever your political choices are – is really key. There is too much at stake for us to stay on the sidelines. No matter your age – you can still contact your Representative and make your voice heard on the issue of MTR as well as other environmental issues.

As I said before, I am very thankful to have this opportunity to let people know about Mountaintop Removal Mining and the destruction it is causing to our beautiful Appalachian Mountains. And I am grateful to all of you who took the time to write so eloquently and ask such great questions.

Q: Hopefully this very important issue (as well as other environmental issues) won’t overlooked because of the debt crisis that no one in Washington seems to be able to handle!

A: I share your concern. Certainly the economic situation is dire and warrants everyone’s immediate attention.

But I do believe we must take a holistic approach to this year’s election. Like the current crisis on Wall Street, Mountaintop Removal Mining is short term gain for the few resulting in long term pain for the many – it is part of the “grab and get” philosophy that unfortunately seems to have dominated this country for the past several years.

We need to get rid of this “grab and get” mentalitiy and come back to taking the longer view as a way of doing things – we need to preserve our jobs, our capital, our environment – and yes that includes our beautiful Appalachaians, and our way of life. That doesn’t mean we don’t innovate – improvement is a wonderful thing. But it does mean that we consider ourselves as caretakers of our nation, not simply as owners with a right to do or destroy anything we please.

If you share this belief, then let your Representative know this. No matter your age. Tell him or her that if they will commit to putting their country’s and their constituents’ interests above the interest of the powerful lobbyist groups, you will encourage all of your friends and family to support him or her. If enough people do this, it will make a very big difference.

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One last question, just to update this interview… added 3/25/09

Q: Since this interview was originally conducted, we’ve been hearing so much about the economy. How has this affected MTR? Also, is there anything new you’d particularly like to update us on?

Since the original interview, a lot has happened in our nation. Although we are currently experiencing a serious economic crisis, I believe this presents an excellent opportunity for our country to change course and pursue green technologies that create jobs and stimulate our economy. I know there are some proposals in the Appalachian Region to create “wind power farms”. I would like to designate the Appalachian Region as the nation’s first “green technology zone”, which would be an area where green energy businesses are eligible for special tax incentives. It is, of course, my hope that the regulations that enabled the horrific practice of MTR will be rescinded by the current administration. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to keep visiting the ilovemountains.org website.

Thank you so much for your continued interest in this very important topic.

Barbara


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