The Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Surface Mining
National Energy Technology Lab
Canaan Valley Institute
P.O. Box 673
Davis, WV 26260
"If you are truly to improve water quality, you have
to do it as a
component of improving the quality of life of those who live in the watershed."
Barry Thacker, Coal Creek Watershed Foundation
I. Executive Summary
From June 6-8, 2000 a diverse group of representatives throughout the eastern coal region came together at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, WV to draw attention to issues challenging watershed groups impacted by abandoned coal mines. Convened as the Eastern Coal Region Restoration Roundtable, the intent was to provide a forum for feedback to public and legislative agencies on successes and barriers facing local groups who are working to restore their watersheds. Eighteen representatives from a 10 state area spoke with a unified voice to decision-makers on strategies and recommendations generated over the 2 ½ day session. A special Capital Hill information exchange between agency, elected officials and roundtable participants concluded the event.
Selection for participation in the roundtable was based on participant’s experience with mine drainage issues and their ability to express their group’s problems and successes with restoration efforts. Participants were asked to complete a profile of their watershed group in advance of arriving at the roundtable. The event was kicked off by having members place a sticker on a large map of the eastern coal region, locating their watershed as they spoke about their efforts.
Louise Wise, Director of Policy, Communication and Resources Staff at EPA gave an overview of the Clean Water Action Plan and the roundtables that have been occurring nationally. The eastern coal region roundtable was the first to focus on a specific issue, mine drainage and included representatives from multiple EPA regions.
Dr. T. Alan Comp, Program Analyst for the Office of Surface Mining provided a history of mining in the eastern coal region. Dr. Comp ascertained that abandoned mine drainage is not just a water problem but also a man made problem. With the onslaught of World War II, there was a huge increase in coal production to support the war effort. Coal communities in the Appalachian region were left with massive scars.
Amy Wolfe, an experienced facilitator in environmental decision making from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, led the group through a process to reach consensus on issues and successes that would be relayed on Capital Hill the last day of the roundtable. Four major critical issue areas were identified as key talking points for the Capital Hill session.
These areas included funding, partnership, enforcement and support by public agencies.
Members were then divided into four work groups. Each workgroup was asked to compile a strategies list that would address their selected issue. These strategies are the recommendations relayed during the Capital Hill information sharing session. The approach was to express what’s working at the local level with success stories to support the specific recommendation. An agenda for the Capital Hill session was developed and spokespeople were identified.
Additional presentations during the Roundtable included Terry Ackman, from the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown, WV who spoke about the need to focus on screening and long term monitoring for watershed characterization. Mr. Ackman gave a slide presentation on remote sensing techniques as a tool for completing a snap shot field investigation for an entire watershed.
Kiena Smith, Executive Director for Canaan Valley Institute, spoke on behalf of Rick Buckley about The Office of Surface Mining’s initiatives in West Virginia. OSM’s role in local watershed efforts is a model for agency support. West Virginia has six interns through the Office of Surface Mining working directly with watershed organizations to gather data needed in developing restoration plans. West Virginia also offers additional programs such as the Watershed Network, which is designed to take a holistic approach to compliment rather then duplicate efforts among agencies.
Ms. Smith was also asked to provide some insight in working with the legislative process. Building rapport with legislative staff people is a key strategy to working with elected officials. "If you want the attention of your member, you need to be persistent, have priorities, follow up, know your subject and go with a friendly attitude". She recommended that it’s better to carry the message of your local watershed group than rely on an umbrella organization that may not represent a real constituent base.
Bob Runowski from EPA Region III talked about the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process and it’s implications with coal region restoration efforts. TMDL’s are being developed as a settlement to law suits against EPA for not enforcing all components of the Clean Water Act. Public involvement is required under the TMDL process. Early involvement by watershed groups can have a substantial impact on the speed at which impaired waters are cleaned up.
The second day ended with a discussion of the need to continue the dialogue among the Coal Region Roundtable focus group. A steering committee representing members of the roundtable was suggested. This committee would be charged with developing a plan on how to work together as a focus group to continue bringing attention to Coal Region efforts and needs.
On the last day, participants reconvened in the O’Niel Building on Capital Hill with invited members of federal agencies and elected officials. The Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Surface Mining, US Forest Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Appalachian Regional Commission along with staff representing elected members from Pennsylvania and West Virginia listened as the roundtable focus group presented their information.
Focus Group members continued to reinforce the recommendations made at the Capital Hill information sharing session even on their own evaluation forms as strategies that would help them achieve their watershed’s vision. These are best summarized as follows:
|Grass roots watershed groups offer a means to identify environmental problems and potential solutions not available to outsiders (i.e. government). Help grass roots organizations implement the identified solutions to environmental problems. Provide enough administrative money beyond initial seed money to keep local groups solvent|
|Government has created numerous programs for those in need. Having a pot of gold to help the needy is useless unless you provide a rainbow to help find it. Streamline government and develop "one-stop-shopping" via the Internet to save grass roots organizations and government both time and money. A clearinghouse/technical center could be cost shared among federal agencies. For example, OSM provides construction moneys through the Appalachia Clean Streams Initiative. NRCS has the ability to support restoration efforts with engineering services. A cost shared approach between NRCS and OSM is an example of how this could work.|
|Encourage grass roots organizations to work with all stakeholders in their watersheds as friends to develop win-win solutions. Legal actions, new regulations, and more stringent enforcement of existing regulations should be the last recourse, not the first, in efforts to improve the environment. Yet federal oversight of the law is sometimes needed to protect unimpacted waters and safeguard human health.|
|Coal companies pay nearly $300M each year into the reclamation fund to reclaim mine land abandoned before 1977 as mandated by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Full appropriation by Congress of this money is needed.|
|Data show that coal mining, performed in accordance with SMCRA requirements, protects the environment and reduces flooding. Government should encourage re-mining of abandoned mine lands as a means to improve the environment and reduce flooding, which can be accomplished at no cost to the government (i.e. example of a win-win solution).|
"The biggest threat to the environment is ignorance. The
only way to
combat ignorance is through education."
On July 6th just one month after the Roundtable, Barry Thacker, a focus group member from the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation in Tennessee, had the opportunity to speak to the Democratic National Platform Committee in St. Louis Missouri. Barry’s message echoed recommendations put forth from the Roundtable. Mr. Thacker also sent a copy of his testimony to Gov. George W. Bush recommending that he also consider these recommendations for his parties’ platform.
Canaan Valley Institute convened the Roundtable on behalf of The Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Surface Mining, and National Energy Technology Lab. CVI is a non-profit, non-advocacy organization working with watershed groups to foster decision-making at the local level.
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