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Did Obama Throw Appalachia’s Mountaintops Under The Bulldozers?

President Obama has asked a Bush appointee who spent years battling for destructive mountaintop coal mining practices to become the head of the federal agency that regulates mountain top mining.

Yesterday PEER reported that Obama has asked Glenda Owens to to take over the helm of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM). Owens has a long history as one of Steven Griles’ helpers, assisting his attempts to burying ancient streams and hollows under toxic coal mining waste in a mad rush to roast the planet:

During her federal service, Glenda Owens has been one of the top officials fighting legal efforts by conservationists to limit valley fills, delaying reclamation standards and defending Bush cutbacks in clean-ups for abandoned mines. Owens also worked closely with former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles (a mining lobbyist now serving a prison sentence on corruption charges) to "streamline" strip mining permits by allowing operators to shortcut environmental reviews.

Mining lobbyists from the National Mining Association flipped out when the New York Times reported on March 23 that the EPA would begin an "aggressive review" of the strip mining permits that the Bush administration handed out like penny candy, citing potential harm to water quality. In classic "have it both ways" fashion, the EPA immediately released a statement walking it back, saying they were "not halting, holding or placing a moratorium on any of the mining permit applications."

Is Owens’ appointment a bone for mining interests? They’re no doubt thrilled about it– Kentucky residents, somewhat less so.

The Louisville, KY Courier-Journal and their coal country colleagues share PEER’s dim view of Ms Owens:

There are good outside candidates who would bring a real change in leadership to the federal Office of Surface Mining. Why, then, does the change advocate who now occupies the White House contemplate promoting Acting OSM Director Glenda Owens?

As Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. pointed out over the weekend, Ms. Owens, while with OSM, "has defended proposed cuts in spending on abandoned mine cleanups, been involved in working to streamline mountaintop removal permits, helped delay improvements in West Virginia’s abandoned mine reclamation program and harshly attacked federal court rulings that would have limited valley fills."


What should be avoided is an "insider" appointment that would satisfy the coal industry and disappoint the people who have to live with scalped mountains and polluted streams throughout the Central Appalachian strip-mine region.

What’s needed is change that strip mining’s victims can believe in.

As Ken Ward, Jr. reports, they favored people who would clean up the mess left by Owens and Bush:

Lexington, Ky., lawyer Joe Childers…has also been backed by Tom FitzGerald, a leading environmental advocate in Kentucky, and by a number of coalfield citizen groups.

But Pat McGinley, a West Virginia University law professor, has been supported by environmental groups in this state, where dealing with the controversy over mountaintop removal coal mining poses one of OSM’s biggest challenges.

McGinley has also been supported by some national groups, such as the Sierra Club, by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and by the United Mine Workers of America union.

The debate went public last month, when the Louisville Courier-Journal editorialized in support of Childers. The Charleston Gazette then backed McGinley. And then, the Lexington Herald-Leader cautioned that Obama should at all costs avoid hiring someone from the mining industry or someone from within OSM.

And Obama should also avoid hiring someone who worked with Steven Griles. Like Glenda Owens. Ken Ward, Jr again:

Through 2002, 2003 and 2004, Owens was apparently heavily involved in Bush administration efforts – led by former mining lobbyist and Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles (who later went to prison on corruption charges) – to subvert the mountaintop removal Environmental Impact Statement to help coal operators obtain strip mine permits more quickly.

Owens is currently a co-defendent with the National Mining Association in a suit brought by the National Parks Conservation Association, challenging a last-minute Bush rule which says regulators no longer have to prove that coal mining activities will not harm water quality in nearby streams before issuing strip mining permits. The good folks at Mountain Justice Summer covered Owens’ attempts back in 2007 to help make that dream a reality so King Coal could entomb more streams.

The rest of us can get on the Green bus with the two-thirds of West Virginians who oppose mountain top destruction mining and tell our Senators we all deserve better than King Coal’s servant Glenda Owens. We can also get on the road and lend a hand to the locals and their supporters in Mountain Justice Summer: their Summer Training Camp starts May 17. Good work, and good fun: joining good people working together to save their community and their kids’ futures will change your life in the best possible ways.

Bon appetit!

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Kirk Murphy

Kirk Murphy

terrestrial obligate aerobe with endoskeleton (bony) and bilateral symmetry.

chordate, bipedal, warm-blooded, mammalian, placental (origin), opposable thumbs.

not (yet) extinct.

indigenous habitat: California Live Oak.

current habitat: Central California Coast (most northerly aspect).... 'northwest of the new world, east of the sea'

potential habitats: all potential habitats critically endangered (due to global climate change).

ailurophilic - hence allergic rhinitic.