At noon on Thursday, a group of young entrepreneurs set up shop outside the Region 3 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office in Philadelphia. They were selling “real West Virginia lemonade” made with “EPA-approved fresh Appalachian mountain spring water.” On closer inspection, their pitchers were filled with foamy brown liquid, not the ice cube-studded refreshing yellow a thirsty passerby might crave. Philly Against Coal served the beverage to raise awareness around water pollution in Appalachia that is a consequence of mountaintop removal mining,and specifically a new mine site in Pine Creek, WV. The stand was sponsored by Philly Against Coal, a coalition of environmental groups in Philadelphia urging the EPA to end mounatintop removal and halt all permits.
Mountaintop removal (MTR) mining is a form of strip-mining that clear-cuts entire mountains, uses high impact explosives to blow the tops off, and scrapes out thin seams of coal within the mountain. Already, over 500 mountains in Appalachia have been destroyed by MTR. The explosions have buried thousands of miles of waterways and resulted in biodiversity loss. Local communities suffer from air pollution and water toxicity, leading to health problems for residents.
The Region 3 EPA office in Philadelphia is charged with reviewing permits for MTR sites in Virginia and West Virginia. In April the agency released new guidelines for permit review and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stated that under the new guidelines there would be “very few valley fills.” Valley fills occur when blasting debris and trees that have been clear-cut from the tops of the mountains are dumped into nearby valleys. Last week the agency greenlighted its first permit since it released the guidelines, the permit for Pine Creek mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The Pine Creek mine will create three valley fills and bury two miles of streams. “We thought that under the new guidelines, permits like this would no longer be deemed acceptable,” said Cat Glenn, one of the beverage pushers, and a member of Philly Against Coal, “The EPA is not protecting the people of Appalachia. They are allowing King Coal to destroy the environment and poison the local communties. People in Philadelphia don’t want to drink this water, so why does the EPA give the ok for people in West Virginia to drink it?”
The lemonade hawkers tried many sales tactics, from educating people about the many metal supplements found in Appalachian water that is filtered out of their own Philadelphia tap water, to presenting the drink as a challenge — “The EPA says it’s safe – you be the judge!” They were met with smiles from passersby and EPA employees alike, yet not a single person stopped to sip the lemonade. EPA administrators Jeff Lapp and Shawn Garvin were personally invited down for a taste, but neither RSVP’ed. The salespeople eventually packed up shop, vowing that their next sales venture would be more profitable. “Maybe we could try selling native Gulf of Mexico fish?” suggested one group member as they poured out their pitchers.