Nancy Sutley, who served as Deputy Mayor for Energy and Environment for the city of Los Angeles, California since 2005, is Barack Obama’sÂ chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
President Barack Obama’s top aides will be making a decision “very soon” about what they will do about mountaintop removal, according to congressional testimony today from Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Sutley told lawmakers her staff have been meeting with EPA, the Corps of Engineers, the Department of Justice and the Office of Surface Mining, discussing the issue, reviewing the February decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and examining a flood of pending permits at the corps office in Huntington.
“We’re trying to get a handle on what’s out there and what we may be able to do about it,” Sutley told theÂ House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.
During a subcommittee hearing this morning,Â Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Ky., grilled Sutley about mountaintop removal and the Obama administration’s plans for dealing with it. Chandler has been a critics of mountaintop removal, and is among the sponsors of the Clean Water Protection Act, legislation to overturn Bush administration changes to the “fill rule” that benefited the mining industry.
According to a transcript kindly provided to me by Jonathan Strong at the publication Inside EPA (Subs Req’d),Â Sutley told Chandler that Obama officials are looking closely at pending permits, and haven’t decided whether they should go forward or not:
Whether all of the permits are created equal, do they all represent activities that will have significant environmental impact. So that we can focus on the ones that have the most significant environmental impacts and see what the options are for making sure that if they do go ahead that we are dealing with the environmental impacts.
Sutley indicated that CEQ is trying to arbitrate a dispute between EPA, which wants to block these permits, and the corps, which wants to allow mining to go forward.
Here’s the full transcript of the exchange:
Chandler: I’d like to ask you a few questions about mountain top removal. It’s an issue I’m sure you’re familiar with and there are a number of people in the Appalachian mountain chain who are very concerned about the shearing off of the tops of mountains, an activity, as you obviously know, affects the landscape forever. Also the impact on drinking water that is a fairly strong impact. There is a lot of concern from a lot of people who live downstream about the quality of their drinking water. During the election President Obama expressed serious concerns about this. But since he’s been elected a fourth circuit decision came down in February which basically allowed this practice to carry on. It had been held in abeyance prior to that decision. There are some permits I think that are moving forward right now. Are you aware that mountain top removal mining is moving forward now into mines in West Virginia.
Sutley: We’ve had the opportunity since the fourth circuit decision to sit down with the agencies that are involved in this process, trying to, first of all understand the status of the permits that were the specific focus of the circuit court and the district court decisions, as well as the status of all the permits that were as you said, held in abeyance as those issues were going through the court. So trying to understand how many there were, where they are and where in the process they are. And we’ve had a number of discussions with the army corps of engineers and with EPA and with the department of justice and with the office of surface mining to understand where we are in the process and to try to now begin the process of identifying which permits are furthest along in the process and which permits represent projects with the most significant environmental impact. We’re trying to get a handle on what’s out there and what we may be able to do about it.
Chandler: What is the administration’s attitude toward this? Does the administration have a position on the going forward of these permits?
Sutley: Whether all of the permits are created equal, do they all represent activities that will have significant environmental impact. So that we can focus on the ones that have the most significant environmental impacts and see what the options are for making sure that if they do go ahead that we are dealing with the environmental impacts.
Chandler: Well its my understanding that the EPA is in favor of them not going ahead and there’s a dispute there with the corps of engineers may be in favor of them going ahead. And isn’t it the role of the CEQ to arbitrate when there is some dispute amongst the agencies?
Sutley: It is.
Chandler: Are you going to arbitrate?
Sutley: Yes that’s what we’re doing right now.
Chandler: Do you know that there is a bit of an urgency to this?
Sutley: Yes, we recognize there is an urgency and we’ve had several meetings with both the corps and the epa already and we met this week with some representatives from the communities affected by that and have had some other meetings as well. So we are aware of the urgency and we are trying to get to a solution very quickly.
Chandler: And you know that every day that passes things are put in place that cannot be reversed?
Sutley: Yes sir.
Chandler: Do we expect some decision from the CEQ soon
Sutley: Yes, very soon
Chandler: I suppose you can’t be more specific than that right now.
Sutley: not right now.