Director of Government Relations
Testimony for Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, and Climate Change
Environmental Public Works
United States Senate
June 6, 2002
Mr. Chairman, on behalf of over one million member and supporters of Audubon, thank you for this opportunity to testify on the affects of the Bush Administration's revisions of the Clean Water Act regulatory definitions of "fill material" and "discharge of fill material". Audubon's mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats in order to preserve the earth's biological diversity. The Bush Administration's change to the Clean Water Act definitions would not only allow our nation's waters to be filled with waste, but the revisions would also destroy important bird and wildlife habitats crucial to bird species like the cerulean warbler that have been in significant decline in recent years.
The purpose of the Clean Water Act is to "restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters." 33 U.S.C. §1251(a). The elimination of the waste exclusion from the definition of "fill material" would allow the disposal of refuse directly into the nation's waters contrary to the intent of Congress when it passed the Clean Water Act almost thirty years ago. What does this change really mean? This change in the definition of "fill material" would allow waste, debris, and ruble known as "overburden" that comes from blowing off the tops of mountains for coal extraction to be dumped into nearby rivers and streams located in the surrounding valleys. These valley fills wipe out the fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, and other wildlife species that inhabit the rivers and streams that are used for dumping grounds.
The practice of blowing off the tops of mountains for coal also destroys some of our nation's important forest habitat located in the Appalachian region. Not only are many lakes, rivers, and wetlands being buried by waste from mountaintop mining, but huge swaths of the forests that are home to many birds and other wildlife are cut down as well. These mining operations create barren areas, literally moonscapes, in the forest landscape. These sterile areas often exceed 10 square miles. In West Virginia and Kentucky alone, over 1,000 miles of streams have been destroyed along with countless acres of forests. Many birds, fish, and other wildlife depend upon these forests and streams for their survival. Among the many victims of this assault on nature is the cerulean warbler. The places these birds call home are being permanently destroyed. The coal extraction includes the use of powerful explosives obliterating the once lush mountain landscape.
The cerulean warbler is an indicator species for the health of our eastern forests. Over the past 30 years, the cerulean warbler has declined by 70%. This is one of the most severe drops among the many declining songbird populations in this country. The reason for the deterioration of the cerulean warbler, particularly in areas like West Virginia and Kentucky, is due primarily to blowing off the tops of mountains for coal causing forest fragmentation.
The cerulean warbler is a Neotropical migratory songbird, which depends upon mature, deciduous forests, often near streams to breed and survive. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the forests found in the West Virginia and Kentucky regions are crucial areas for many migratory birds. While the cerulean warbler is high on Audubon's conservation priority list in areas where mountaintop mining activity occurs, there are other Neotropical migrants of the region, such as the Kentucky Warbler and the Prothonatory Warbler, that are also rapidly declining in population.
The dramatic decrease of the number of cerulean warblers, and other songbirds like it, serves as a clear signal that the forests that these birds call home are in imminent danger. By allowing the Bush administration's regulatory changes to the Clean Water Act to go forward, the destructive process of blowing off the tops of mountains will continue to push birds like the cerulean warbler toward extinction. We need to stop these destructive acts that would deny our children and future generations the pleasure of listening to the unique song of the cerulean warbler.
Mr. Chairman, we look forward to working with you and the other members of your committee to preserve birds, like the cerulean warbler, for future generations. Let's stop the Bush administration's regulatory changes that would permit the practice of mountaintop mining to continue. We need to work to keep the Clean Water Act for the purposes Congress intended. Thank you Mr. Chairman for this opportunity to testify before the Committee on such an important issue. Together, we can prevent the contamination of our nation's waters and safeguard the cerulean warbler from extinction.