Coal Tattoo

Dueling editorials on mountaintop removal


Readers of the two daily newspapers in Charleston, W.Va., were treated to two very different editorials this morning on the Obama administration’s move to more closely scrutinize mountaintop removal coal mining.

To folks who regularly read both newspapers, it probably came as no surprise that  the Gazette supported what EPA is doing, while the Daily Mail made out like the world is coming to an end because President Barack Obama wants to actually enforce the Clean Water Act.

The Gazette editorial said said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s order that her staff actually start reviewing Army Corps of Engineers permits for compliance with Clean Water Act rules was welcome news:

Jackson’s directive to obey the law is such a change from the last eight years of purposeful incompetence by federal regulators that readers may be forgiven if they are startled by it. Industry advocates predicted doom and gloom, apparently by reflex rather than reason, as several said they were not sure exactly what the EPA meant to do. There is no block or moratorium on permits, despite rumors to the contrary.

The Daily Mail, by contrast, resorted to xenophobic name-calling:

With this action, the Obama administration warmed the hearts of radical supporters like the Natural Resources Defense Council – see its counsel’s reaction at right – and EarthJustice, which has sued to stop mountaintop removal mining.

But a radical change of tune at EPA would have terrible economic consequences for West Virginians.

Most of the anti-coal activists who have the ear of the new administration do not live in the economies they would destroy or make the slightest effort to understand mining – or even road-building, for that matter – in mountainous areas.

Some environmental zealots  more [sic] about trees than they do about the people of West Virginia, and make no bones about it.

The DM’s editorial writers relied on some wildly erroneous statements included in their paper’s news story the previous day, such as the claims that EPA had actually blocked permits and that this initiative would stop other kinds of development projects.

There’s also an editorial today in the Lexington Herald-Leader:

The EPA had begun to question this widespread destruction of water resources by the end of the Clinton administration. But Bush’s people gave the coal industry a blank check and tried to do to the law what the industry does to the mountains.

Coal companies want to keep their blank check, of course. It costs more to minimize mining’s footprint by storing the overburden and then using it to reshape and reclaim the original landscape. It’s cheaper to just push all that rock and dirt into the nearest valley or hollow and reduce biologically rich streams into something that flows through a pipe.

What the coal industry doesn’t want the public to realize is that we can have both: the coal and a landscape reclaimed according to federal law. The bonus would be the creation of additional jobs to engineer and carry out the more labor-intensive reclamation process.

I’d love for readers to share links to other editorials from coalfield papers and beyond…