Washington, D.C., and National Park Service police this afternoon arrested more than 100 people -- including NASA scientist James Hansen -- during a protest against mountaintop-removal mining.
The arrest took place amid approximately 1,000 protesters who had gathered in front of the White House to call on President Obama to immediately ban the mining practice, in which mountaintops are blasted to expose coal seams and the resulting rubble empties into streams.
In chants, signs and songs, the protesters accused coal companies of poisoning Appalachia's water supplies and sickening its residents.
Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said the science on the practice unequivocally demonstrated it was poisoning water supplies.
"Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, can and should be abolished," Hansen said in a pre-arrest speech. "The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries must end."
Hansen has previously called for civil disobedience to protest government inaction to address climate change.
The arrests occurred when a group of protesters broke away from the main block to sit in front of the White House, ignoring three police warnings to vacate. The detainees were loaded onto a Metrobus that advertised it was running on "clean burning natural gas."
The protest was organized by Appalachian community groups and supported by Washington, D.C., environmental groups such as the Rainforest Action Network and Trout Unlimited.
Crede Calhoun, a 52-year-old kayak tour operator from western Maryland who attended the protest, said mountaintop-removal mining had ruined the Appalachian ecosystem's ability to provide clean water to its residents.
"Now we have dirty rain that runs over dirty land," Calhoun said.
Carol Raulston, spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, challenged the claim that mountaintop-removal mining faces broad local opposition.
The association held a demonstration earlier this month at which coal miners and their families protested the Obama administration's new water quality regulations on mountaintop-removal mining.
"We had coal miners and their families here on Sept. 15 to support surface coal mining," Raulston said. "All of these people live in the region. They were here to express their concerns that their jobs and the economies where they live would be threatened by EPA's future actions and by actions that EPA has already taken."
U.S. EPA froze 79 permits for surface mines in Appalachia last year and proposed new mining regulations in April that agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said would ban the dumping of waste into streams in nearly all cases.
The National Mining Association has sued EPA in an attempt to force the agency to void the new water quality measures. Environmental groups are pushing bills in the House and Senate that would ban the dumping of mining waste into U.S. waterways.
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