More: The EPA announcement on mountaintop removal

March 24, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.

dragline1.jpgHere’s the press release just issued by EPA on its crack down on mountaintop removal:

EPA Acts to Reduce Harmful Impacts from Coal Mining

(Washington, D.C. – March 24, 2009) The United States Environmental Protection Agency has sent two letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressing serious concerns about the need to reduce the potential harmful impacts on water quality caused by certain types of coal mining practices, such as mountaintop mining. The letters specifically addressed two new surface coal mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky. EPA also intends to review other requests for mining permits.

“The two letters reflect EPA’s considerable concern regarding the environmental impact these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams,” said Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “I have directed the agency to review other mining permit requests. EPA will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment.”

EPA’s letters, sent to the Corps office in Huntington, W.Va., stated that the coal mines would likely cause water quality problems in streams below the mines, would cause significant degradation to streams buried by mining activities, and that proposed steps to offset these impacts are inadequate. EPA has recommended specific actions be taken to further avoid and reduce these harmful impacts and to improve mitigation.

The letters were sent to the Corps by EPA senior officials in the agency’s Atlanta and Philadelphia offices. Permit applications for such projects are required by the Clean Water Act.

EPA also requested the opportunity to meet with the Corps and the mining companies seeking the new permits to discuss alternatives that would better protect streams, wetlands and rivers.

The Corps is responsible for issuing Clean Water Act permits for proposed surface coal mining operations that impact streams, wetlands, and other waters. EPA is required by the act to review proposed permits and provides comments to the Corps where necessary to ensure that proposed permits fully protect water quality.

Because of active litigation in the 4th Circuit challenging the issuance of Corps permits for coal mining, the Corps has been issuing far fewer permits in West Virginia since the litigation began in 2007. As a result, there is a significant backlog of permits under review by the Corps. EPA expects to be actively involved in the review of these permits following issuance of the 4th Circuit decision last month.

EPA is coordinating its action with the White House Council on Environmental Quality and with other agencies including the Corps.

More information on wetlands and the letters:

6 Responses to “More: The EPA announcement on mountaintop removal”

  1. Red Desert says:

    A very positive development. I’m particularly happy to see the EPA use the phrase “the CUMULATIVE impacts on the watershed, forest and habitat destruction and fragmentation within a globally significant and biologically diverse forest system, and the impairment of downstream water quality” [my emphasis].

    There will be cries that EPA is stopping MTR and killing jobs. No doubt there would be significant economic impacts if MTR is curtailed. (In my view, likely overcome in the medium or long term by economic benefits.) But it’s important to remember that MTR/VF is practiced because it is a cheaper way to surface mine for the coal companies–not the only way to mine.

    A case in point in Alaska: A controversial open pit gold mine in the Tongas got permits for the placement of mining spoil on wetlands. After the Bush changed regulations that allowed mining spoil to be declared “fill” (regulations changed, of course, with Appalachian valley fills in mind), the gold mine pursued new permits to dump their overburden in a lake below the mine. They did this because it was cheaper–even as the price of gold has skyrocketed–not because it was necessary. They got their new permits, but then the 9th Circuit said no–it’s a violation of the Clean Water Act. Now it’s going to be decided by the Supreme Court this spring. It seems like it’s a case with lot of consequences for MTR in Appalachia. I’m surprised to never see it mentioned here.

  2. Coal Future says:

    The economy of our great state is in the hands of someone who simply does not care. I work in the coal industry, and am ashamed of people who call this state home that fight against what is the lifeblood of our economy. Coal is what puts food on my families table and thousands of other people in this state. I would be willing to wager that the majority of people who complain about MTR have not been to a site that has been reclaimed. I am deeply concerned for my families future and the thousands of other families who depend on coal to provide their livlihoods. I just hope our industry can survive the next four years when we will get an opportunity to send the “Sheriff” back to Illinois.

  3. […] Stalls Mountaintop Removal Cross Posted from the coal tatoo. This is big news! Stay tuned for more information. Maybe go celebrate a […]

  4. watcher says:

    Deep mining, GET READY your next on the enviros list.

  5. My heart goes out to individual families threatened by this decision; but this is much bigger than any of us as individuals.

    It’s well past time to look and act forward for the well-being of God’s earth, and for the future of our children’s children.

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