Last week more than 200 people from 27 states gathered in Washington, D.C. to lobby federal legislators to support the Clean Water Protection Act, HB 1310, as a way to stop or seriously curtail mountain top removal mining.
"It (the House bill ) would effectively end the valley fill process that's used in mountain top removal, and it would end the greatest majority of mountain top removal mining thereby," said Bob Kincaid, whose reporting appears on the Head On Radio Network.
Lenny Kohm, Campaign Director for Appalachian Voices, said on Tuesday the bill has 164 co-sponsors.
"These are people who have actually signed on to the bill, and are registered in the Congressional Record as co-sponsors," Kohm said.
But the House and the Senate bills are similar in that both aim to revise the Clean Water Act.
The language of that law prohibits waste from being dumped into US waterways. But the Bush administration in 2002 changed the name of the rubble of mountain top removal coal mining, calling it 'fill' instead of 'waste.'
As parts of mountains are blasted to expose coal seams, this 'fill' material, or as the mining industry calls it, 'overburden', gets dumped into rivers and streams.
Selenium, arsenic, lead and other toxins end up in the water supply and damage the health of many Appalachians, according to researchers such as Michael Hendryx of West Virginia University and Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland, who led a study which she and her colleagues published in January in the journal Science.
Kohm is cautiously optimistic about ending mountain top removal mining. There can be a long process before the House bill gets passed. It has to go through the Water Resources and Environment Sub-committee. If it survives that, it goes on to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and then a vote on the floor of the House.
"If, when we do our counts---our whip counts---we think we have the votes to pass it, we'll push to get it done. But if we don't see those votes, we'll do what we can to hold it back. Because you don't want it to go to the floor and lose. Because, then it's hard to get it back there."
Similarly, Kincaid said many hurdles still exist.
"Each term of Congress is two years long. So you've got these two years in which to get sufficient signatures and hearings and committee meetings and so forth to get the bill to the floor of each individual (legislative) body.
"In this particular case, HR 1310 is stuck in committee, because my Congressman, Nick Joe Rahall, of the 3rd District of WV, is using his seniority and his associations with other members of Congress to keep the legislation blocked. He's bragged about it to the coal mining industry in West Virginia."
But Kohm said winning the fight to stop mountain top removal mining is within reach.
"The politicians that used to oppose us in the coalfield states--they're not with us, but everything I'm hearing tells me they're sort of resigned to the fact that this (the end of mountain top removal mining) is going to happen."
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