How to change West Virginia coal industry's policy of endangered federal species


Skom expert Roger Thoma looks at a crayfish in March in Ash Camp Branch, a crack on Donna Branham's property in Lenore, W.Va (Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post).

Donna Branham was grilling the locks in her backyard when she felt the tremors. She was two miles away from the coal mine, but she could detect the blasts.

“Oh my god, not again,” she thought.

In 2017, there was an explosion at the surface mine after its ceiling, its mirrors and its fireplace to scald. When the mine was closed to complaints that her waste was interfering with the lobster, a species threatened, she thought she had been given a break.

Now the mine is back in business, thanks to Trump appntes intervention by the Department of Interior Officers and West Virginia who allowed the drilling to re-drill by Twin Branch and about half a dozen other mines under policy in June 2017, according to documents received under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

President Trump's pro-coal standing is not surprising, but the documents give a rare insight into how state and industry officials have taken on the president's political appointments in order to further their economic interests over the agency's remit. protect endangered wildlife – in this case, two lobster species that help keep the state's crosses and rivers healthy.

The UN panel warned in Monday's report that there are human activities He pushed the eighth of the world's species to collapse and urged governments to protect them. Meanwhile, the e-mails show that the other direction has been provided by Trump administration: Federal officials, States and US Fish and Wildlife Service launched to get permission for operations close to sensitive habitat.

Promoted by Landon “Tucker” Davis, an officer of the Interior Department who used the representation of the state's coal industry, the 2017 directive that paved the way for mine licenses reflects how environmental reconstruction is at the beginning the administration of the nation's landscape in ways that could damage threatened species.

Jason Bostic, Vice President of the West Virginia Coal Society, and other coal executives say that federal officers of Fish and Wildlife were not providing guidance quickly on how mines could operate. He also expressed suspicion that a fishery is a major danger.

“We are talking about a lobster that survived the Industrial Revolution, in one of the most extreme, remote and difficult places to work in the country,” Bostic said in a telephone interview. “It was very similar to us to believe that modern mining was a threat to them.”


This major lobster of the women is one of four who lives at the national Sun Hatchery Sun Springs Springs in West Virginia. (Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post)

Crustaceans such as pied lobster, lobster, remain part of West Virginian youth life. They go under rocks to build their houses and extensive tunnels, said Zachary Loughman, biology professor at Westmeath University. They go in many names in Appalachia: crawdads, crawdaddies and, in some cases, mudbugs.

Besides helping to clean and clean rivers, these animals serve as prey for sports fish. And the activities that threaten their habitat can affect the water supplies of local residents.

In April 2016, the Department of Interior under President Barack Obama submitted two species of lobster – the Guyandotte River and Big Sandy, named for the rivers in which they live – on the list of endangered federal species. He identified logging and mining of coal, which incurs sediment runoff and chemistry into streams, as key threats.

When a species is listed, federal officials are required to identify a critical habitat for its survival and to provide guidance so that the government does not authorize actions that could cause further harm. When Trump was elected, an Interior approach was transferred to the lobster.

Environmentalists argue that federal officials have failed to establish legally required safeguards and properly supervise state environmental officers, who have approved mines under less stringent requirements.


The Center for Biological Diversity and other advocacy groups are now preparing to invoke the Inland Department without protecting crustaceans from activities such as those at the Twinning Branch. The centre's senior scientist, Tierra Curry, who helped to jeopardize the two species, argued that while watching a coal truck which recently made its way to a mining operation approved under Trump's policy.

“The law says that you cannot endanger endangered species, and the science says that sediment and pollution from coal mines will endanger the species,” she said, referring to the Endangered Species Act. “So the law and science are clear.”

So the winds are a political countervailing head: Trump won the state in 2016 at nearly 42 points, and nine months later, his governor – former coal tycoon – switched to a party registration from Democrat to Republican. Although Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) Kept his seat during the middle of last year, he is the outgoing in a strong Republican state. And there is a bilateral agreement that the coal industry needs protection even if miners and loggers are combined they account for only 3 per cent of their workforce.

Bostic said that industry and state officials appealed to those who appointed the best in the Inner Department after they could not get specific guidelines from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Without the guidelines, West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection was unable to permit new mine operations in areas where both of the listed captives were listed under the Endangered Species Act.

“We addressed this enlistment, and nobody was able to tell us what we should do,” he said, adding that state and industrial officials were of the opinion that they could make a case with Interior officials. Department when Trump took possession of them. “We felt we had an audience. It was time to express our opinion. ”


The sunglasses in a protective plant worn by coal miners in a field near Berwind, W.Va. (Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post)

The Western Merchants succeeded in achieving their objective, according to the documents released under the FOIA issue filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.

In October 2016, Fish and Wildlife officers launched plans to block the dumping of mining waste into the watersheds that sustain the endangered sea crab guy, with a range of 92 per cent, and the Great Swamp lobster under threat. , which had 62 percent decline.

However, in February 2017, Trump signed the legislation that breached the “stream protection rule”, which was prohibited by mining firms from discharging waste within 100 feet of a stream. Without this protection, Fish and Wildlife officers began to reverse the plan to resolve coal mining as opposed to saving the lobster.

Then West Virginia and mining officials – who opposed the scammer to be listed in the first place – began to lead the leaders of the Department of Interior.

On March 8, 2017, Austin Caperton – a former coal consultant who serves as Cabinet Secretary of the West Virginia Environmental Protection Department, then wrote – the Secretary of State Ryan Zinke about “hard situation. ”

Caperton complained that the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service had “unilaterally imposed protection measures” which raised costs for the coal industry and delayed mining activities.

As negotiations progressed, Fish and Wildlife experts were concerned about the fate of Guyandotte River's lobster.

“I mean it will be in danger, this is not to stop mining going on here, whether legally or illegally. . . so we must ever do some of our best strategy to increase the obstacle to elimination which could be avoided, ”one officer wrote in exchange with other career employees on May 11, 2017.

West Virginia officials repeatedly challenged the agency's proposed restrictions. In May 23, Harold Ward, mining and reclamation director at the Department of State for Environmental Protection, called Fish and Wildlife praise, said “not overwhelmingly.”

West Virginia officials were supported in the dispute by a number of top Domestic Department staff. They included Skipwith Aurelia, which helps supervise fish, wildlife and parks, and Davis, who was director of West Virginia for the 2016 Trump campaign and was a long-standing booster for the coal industry before he began Department of Interior as policy advisor to the Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement Office.

In June 6, a Fish and Wildlife Service officer referred to Davis as a “political Interior” and said Davis was complaining that the agency had licenses.

Davis worked several times as a liaison between West Virginia representatives and representatives of the coal industry and internal officials, according to public records, taking West Virginia's concerns on Skipwith and asking her to address the sanctioned approval.

Davis questioned the department's other efforts to monitor the impacts of mining. Explaining why he suddenly canceled a study of the impacts of coal mining on the health of nearby residents, he said, “Democracy was a Democratic thing,” according to the notes of the Office of the Chief Inspector of Interior.

On June 28, 2017, the industry got what he wanted. Vincent DeVito, the Department of Interior's energy policy adviser, set aside the Fish and Wildlife Service and issued a new guide. He called on mining firms to draft a protection plan if their projects were within 500 meters of the fisheries stream, unless a scum company survey listed under the Endangered Species Act was found.

Shortly afterwards, when Skipwith questioned whether Fish and Wildlife were engaged in permission for the Twinning Branch, another officer informed her that the operation was then approved under a new policy. “Tucker is happy,” wrote the Skipwith official.

On July 3, Ward, the state mining officer, shared the guide with executives of the coal industry, telling them, “Get the permits that move in the process.”

It was a great relief for Bostic, leader of the coal industry.

“Excellent work fellers,” Bostic replied to the governor of West Virginia.

Bostic considered that the permissions in four counties could be blocked without the directive as companies need new permits moving into new areas.

“This problem has been compounded by the fact that the fisheries habitat, whether normal or alleged, is at the heart of the Appalachia metallic coal core areas,” he said.

In an interview, Bostic said that the DeVito guide was crucial to achieve metallurgical coal, low-sulfur coal used in industrial manufacturing instead of electricity generation. The demand for coalwork metal exports remained strong even as the market for the sale of coal to US power stations.

While the United States recorded the 39-year coal consumption was estimated last year, Appalachian coal price made up about 40 percent as China, India and other countries claimed more coal for metalworking. steel was going through the growing cities, according to US Energy Information Administration.

The overseas demand for West Virginia coal has not shifted to the growth of local coal jobs. Coal production in Appalachia fell by 59 per cent from its peak in 1990, the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis reported, and state figures show that the number of direct mining employees decreased slightly between the third quarter of 2017 and 2018.

But DeVito was ready to celebrate on July 6, 2017, sending an e-mail to the Department of Interior's communications director at the time that a mine in south West Virginia had been allowed to operate.

“Z needs to be done to achieve this success,” he wrote, referring to Zinke. “The Berwind mine is idle and went to work yesterday, 5 days after I approved a guidance document. Three other companies should have plans to work later next / next week. ”


Coal operators at Eagle Creek mining area near Beckley, W.Va., try to control debris and movement of water as mining runoff runs down towards the currents. (Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post)

The Department of Interior issued a news release August 1, 2017, announcing the reopening of the mine. “Mine Berwind is the first of many projects that demonstrate Trump's administrative commitment to the coal country and good government,” said Zinke.

DeVito left the division a year later, with Zinke commending him for helping to “set the course for energy leadership in the first term of this administration.” t

Within a month, he took up the position of executive vice-president and general advocate for Cox Oil Offshore, a drilling company operating in the Gulf of Mexico.

In March, Branham felt that the first explosions like the twinned Twin Mines had its operations. Branham rose over a coal tipple, where companies put their coal out, because her parents had to abandon a youth house after the mine dish near the well water was polluted.

“You know, I have three good wells on my property, as well as many springs, and I will eventually fight to try to protect it,” said Branham, a 65-year-old man of his age. she had sharp blue eyes that affected her, her queen was clean enough to hunt for a lobster.

Fish and Wildlife officers refused to comment, and the center for Biological Diversity stated against the agency regarding the disclosure of public records and failed to criticize a critical habitat for both species. West Virginia Environmental Protection Department did not respond to an interview request.

Booth Energy, who owns Twin Branch mine, did not respond to requests for comments.

Trump's regulatory changes are welcomed by most residents even in their efforts to diversify the local economy. Road signs promote off-road tourism in the mountains and local corridors, for example the one recreating the steps of the Hatfield and McCoy families.

Nancy Hatfield, a great grandson of a family patriarch, Devil Anse, has taken on the tourist economy. She operates a boarding business in Gilbert's town and opened a distillery in the hills above her house, where she, her daughter and her son-law, moonshine based on Hatfield and McCoy's original recipes.

Hatfield's father was a coal miner, along with her late husband and her current husband, who is suffering from black-lung disease. She grew up playing in the creeks, just like Branham, and she knows that mining can be a toll.

“Truly polluted, you know. It's true. But what can we do about it? We need to eat, ”she said, sitting in a modest little house with photos of her famous family and a moonshine colorful bottle located on shelves in the living room. “Many of us are not here, and God was good for us, you know. It was good for us. ”

Near the border of Virginia, a rescue hatchery has started a rescue mission.

Big Sandy Big pregnant – their shells wearing great prizes of red and red dishes – digging beneath brown, flat rocks. Hatchery officers spent more than a year learning how to raise more common lobster and care for those collected by Loughman, the biological professor of West Liberty, and his students in the wild.

“I think we can restore these animals completely,” said Loughman.

Curry, who grew up in a Kentucky hole around mountain-mining mining, is not as optimistic. Although Fish and Wildlife mini-scientists were allowed to make a DeVito guide in March, Curry argues that it fails to protect the species.

“We can see here that mining waste – mining wastes are toxic – running directly into the habitat of endangered species,” she said, referring to a mine draining into Clear Fork, one of the two cranes that survive. the lobster river Guyandotte. “And no one is doing anything about it. And under this guidance the Trump administration put in place, no one had to do anything about it. "

Dino Grandoni contributed to this report.

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