A coalition of 28 Christian groups from across denominations are calling on the government and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take immediate action to stop further mountaintop removal coal mining.
Mountaintop removal coal mining is a process where coal companies blast the tops off of mountains to get at thin seams of coal.
The practice was legalized in 2002 when the Bush administration rolled back Clean Water Act protections, creating a loophole in the "fill rule" to allow coal companies to dump the waste generated by the blasting into nearby streams.
The groups are asking EPA to close the Clean Water Act loophole and restore original protections, which would prohibit coal companies from marking their waste as "fill."
"As Christians, we are called to be good stewards of God's creation, to love and care for our neighbors, and to speak out against injustice," said Peter Illyn, Executive Director of the Christian environmental ministry, Restoring Eden. "As Appalachia's communities and ecosystem suffers, we feel called by our faith to speak out against the unnecessary practice of mountaintop removal coal mining. We believe only God should move mountains. Closing the Clean Water Act loophole is a good first step."
Jordan Blevins, Lands and Water Program Manager for the National Council of Churches, added: "To prevent further devastation, we are calling on the EPA to move forward with a new Clean Water Act rule to prevent the use of mining waste as 'fill material,' which is then dumped into Appalachian streams. As part of our call to be stewards of creation, we have a duty to use the land responsibly, to manage it so that it serves the good of all, and to protect it for future generations and for all life. Establishing the Clean Water Act rule is one step in doing that."
A list of signers on the group's letter follows.
More than 470 mountains in Appalachia have been blasted by mountaintop removal to date, with approximately 2,000 miles of streams being affected in the process.
As a result, communities throughout Appalachia have suffered from polluted drinking water, increased flooding, damage to homes and buildings from the blasts and a devastated landscape. The increase in mountaintop removal mining has also meant a decrease in jobs as people are replaced with machines.
Recent research in the journal Science found the impacts of mountaintop removal to be "pervasive and irreversible, and that mitigation cannot compensate for losses" to the natural world.
"The science is so overwhelming that the only conclusion that one can reach is that mountaintop mining needs to be stopped," Margaret Palmer, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and the study's lead author told the Washington Post in January.
Members of Congress, meanwhile, have drafted a bill called the Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696) that would drastically curb the mining practice in the area of central Appalachia.
"Our goal is not to eliminate surface mining of coal but to limit the practice of blowing off the top of a mountain and dumping the fill in streams," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who co-sponsored the bill along with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told a Senate subcommittee earlier this month that the affects of mountaintop removal on nearby water sources are "pretty intuitive."
"Certainly it is my belief as we learn more and more from outside scientists and inside scientists, we know that there are clear water quality impacts that come from filling in streams -- pretty intuitive -- and from the valley fills that result when you have to take this tremendous amount of overburden," she said.
The EPA has come under fire in recent months from both sides of the mountaintop mining debate for their slowness in handling mining permits.
Association of Christian Churches of South Dakota
Care of Creation
Catholic Committee for Appalachia
The Catholic Rural Life Conference
Christians for the Mountains
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Environmental Network
Evangelicals for Social Action
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Lindquist Environmental Appalachian Fellowship (LEAF)
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Justice, Peace/Integrity of Creation Office
National Catholic Rural Life Conference
National Council of Churches of Christ, USA
National Religious Coalition on Creation Care
Opening the Book of Nature
Pennsylvania Council of Churches
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office
Presbyterians for Earth Care
Renewal: Students Caring for Creation
Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, Presbyterian Church USA
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society
Wisconsin Council of Churches