Coal mining proposition could have devastating effects on drinking water

Jared Downing

Coal mining on the Black Warrior River faces a new attack.

The Birmingham NAACP sent a letter signed by 22 environmental organizations Tuesday imploring President Robert Witt and UA to halt creation of a coal mine on the Shepherd Bend portion of the Black Warrior River.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management granted a permit for the Shepherd Bend mine in mid-August, despite protests from environmental groups and grassroots campaigns that claimed the mining could pollute a nearby drinking water intake for the city of Birmingham.

Now, approval from UA, which holds rights to the land, is the one of the only hurdles left to clear.

“As the major owner of the land and minerals of Shepherd Bend, they can essentially stop the mining process,” said Charles Scribner, head of Black Warrior Riverkeeper.

“Protecting the environment is one of the pillars of our platform,” said the Rev. Anthony Johnson, community relations director of the NAACP’s Birmingham chapter. “We see it as another form of oppression. People don’t have a choice but to use the water.”

According to the Birmingham Water Works Board, the water intake in question lies within 1,000 feet of the site of the proposed mine and supplies drinking water to 200,000 people in the city of Birmingham.

The permit granted by the ADEM clears Shepherd Bend LLC, owned by the Drummond Company, to mine an area of 1,773 acres. Without support from UA, though, the mine would be limited to a 36-acre tract.

Johnson believes it is the University’s responsibility to facilitate discussion between the Drummond Company and those who oppose the mine.

“What we are calling for is a meeting for both sides,” he said.

The letter, sent by Johnson, reads, “The NAACP strongly believes ‘clean’ is a civil right … we are prepared to draw broader attention to this problem through peaceful demonstrations on all three UA-system campuses, letter/petition campaigns, and public rallies.”

“We want the opposition to know that we work with people who vote,” Johnson said. “We want to encourage legislators and people who give to the school.”

Though the University has yet to decide the fate of Shepherd Bend, Scribner has faith in President Witt and UA’s long-term interest in the public good.

“Because UA controls so much of the land and minerals,” he said, “and because they have so much responsibility to the public, I’m confident that they will do the right thing.”