Rahall: EPA clears 42 of 48 permits for approval

May 15, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.

kayfordblast.jpg

Photo by Antrim Caskey

Congressman Nick J. Rahall is having a telephone press conference right now to announce that the Obama administration has cleared for approval nearly all of the mountaintop removal mining permits  that the EPA has been reviewing.

UPDATED: Here is a link to Rahall’s prepared statement.

As you recall, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced her agency’s initiative to more closely examine federal Army Corps of Engineers valley fill permits back in March, saying EPA was “expressing serious concerns about the need to reduce the potential harmful impacts on water quality.”

Some in the media — and a lot of folks in the advocacy blog arena — jumped out ahead of what Jackson had announced, and made out like President Barack Obama was putting a stop to mountaintop removal, with a permit moratorium. Within hours, EPA was issuing a statement to clarify what it was up to, and since then Obama officials have kind of dodged the question of what their long-term plan for dealing with mountaintop removal was going to be (this despite the president’s own statements  that damage from large-scale strip mining wa “horrendous”).

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In Washington, Rahall is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, where he’s considered a strong environmentalist who has taken on all sorts of industries and exercised strong oversight over regulatory agencies weakened by the Bush administration. Back home, Rahall is generally a “Friend of Coal.” While he sometimes takes on the industry — such as arguing publicly that the post-mining development requirements of the federal strip mining law need to be more tightly enforced — Rahall also has worked hard to protect the mining operations in his Southern West Virginia district.

It seems now that the news is that Rahall, by writing this letter to EPA, has gotten this response, (both letters dated yesterday) which clarifies that EPA has given signed off on almost all (87.5 percent, to be exact) of the mountaintop removal permits that has so far been reviewed under the initiative announced in March.

In the EPA letter to Rahall, acting assistant administrator Michael H. Shapiro explained:

I understand the importance of coal mining in Appalachia for jobs, the economy and meeting the nation’s energy needs. I also want to emphasize the need to ensure that coal mining is conducted in a manner that is fully consistent with the requirements of the [Clean Water Act], the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other applicable federal laws.

Shapiro said federal agencies are working  with the states “to ensure the review of proposed coal mining projects proceeds in a predictable, timely and environmentally responsible manner.”

As for the permits under review:

EPA has raised environmental concerns with six pending permit applications in the Corps’ Huntington District out of a total of approximately forty-eight we have reviewed. We have advised the Corps that EPA does not intend to provide additional comments on the remaining forty-two permits. The Corps may proceed with appropriate permit decisions on those remaining projects.

UPDATED:

So far, the numbers don’t seem to add up … EPA previously made public objection letters to these permits:

CONSOL Energy, Central Appalachian Mining, Alex Energy, Frasure Creek Mining, Colony Bay Coal, and Highland Mining.

CONSOL, Alex, Frasure Creek, Colony Bay and Highland are all in West Virginia. Central Appalachian is in Kentucky.

I have asked Rahall’s office and EPA for clarification.

40 Responses to “Rahall: EPA clears 42 of 48 permits for approval”

  1. Cindy Rank says:

    What is there to say but to express the deepest disappointment that the CHANGE promised with last years election apparently will not extend very far into the coal fields of Appalachia.

    Reportedly there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 – 150 permits pending….. The many dozens citizen and environmental groups in WV have commented on these past couple of years deserve greater scrutiny than the Corps was performing.

    It will be interesting to see just which ones EPA is willing to let go through. …. and why.

    ….. From superficial consideration of the importance and function of the headwater streams being buried to the fantasy of unproven and minimum mitigation measures, these permits promise only further devastation throughout central Appalachia.

    It appears politics may have trumped science once again.

  2. DaisyMay says:

    Any way we can get a link to a list of these permits?

  3. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    DaisyMay:

    Working on that … there are some conflicting reports between what EPA has previously said, what Rahall announced today, and what EPA now may be saying.

    Stay tuned.

    Ken.

  4. Leigh Ann Wells Ray says:

    I’m a bit confused by the abovementioned list of operations. Which three permits in West Virginia are still causing concern?

  5. roselle says:

    By taking this course of action, Obama demonstrates that he is interested in nothing other then getting elected in 2012. I’d suggest we all scrape the Obama stickers off of our cars and send them to the White House. This is not only a betrayal of Appalachia, but a betrayal of his promise to change politics and deal with global warming. With the coal industry still in the drivers seat, we are in for a long decent into a climate crisis that may make the Earth inhabitable for humanity. That would be a crime of the highest order.

  6. lil1949 says:

    Mourn the future loss of your beloved gigantic, majestic mountains that will be pulverized and go up in a cloud of dust. They have been delivered as sacrifical lambs on the alter that belongs to King Coal. It appears that King Coal has once again trumped the science that has revealed the great environmental ills of the world we call home.

  7. watcher says:

    lil1949, you are preaching to your choir.

  8. […] Gazette reporter Ken Ward is reporting on his Coal Tattoo blog that the EPA has “signed off on almost all (87.5 percent, to be exact) of the mountaintop […]

  9. Ken,

    I’m w. Cindy Rank, that this is disappointing, although Obama’s language during the campaign that “there should be a better way” was not all that strong. Does the Huntington office cover only WV, and if so, are other actors, such as Boucher, McConnell pressing the EPA on permits elsewhere?

    Thanks, as always, for getting the word out.

    B.

  10. Elisa Young says:

    I would be interested to know which permits are still being investigated in Ohio, which have been dropped, and why they are or are not being investigated at this point.

    Belief that meaningful change through the political or legal systems on coal issues ended for me some time ago.

    It takes real work (there is a difference between jobs and work) to make change on energy issues. It is not going to be as easy as holding our hands out to the coal industry and taking whatever they hand us. Building roads will not create sustainable jobs anymore than life-support investments in a dead-end coal industry will make us “leaders” in the energy industry future.

    We need to be pushing to get those jobs in Appalachia NOW with that economic stimulus money – clean energy jobs for our children – the wave of the future – or settle for being left behind in a pile of coal dust on a planet that’s coming to a rolling boil.

    Elisa

  11. wv voice of reason says:

    A sad day for the southern Appalachian region. An unbelievable decision considering the Obama administration spent only a few hours looking at a single MTR site. Much like Bush’s attitude toward the Constitution, apparently the Clean Water Act is just a goddamned piece of paper. Pathetic.

  12. I dont recall ever being more disappointed in a politician.

  13. Dianne says:

    It seems clear that at least some of WV’s powerful federal politicians put enormous pressure on US EPA to get MTR permits approved.
    Reading both of Obama’s books and listening to him during the campaign made me more optimistic than I probably should have been.
    But still, I wonder, does Obama himself know what’s going on with these permits? (And does it really matter either way?)
    Still, Obama does have a few other things to take care of these days. I maintain a tiny shred of hope beneath the kick-in-the-gut feeling these amnnouncements have caused to so many of us – it ain’t over til it’s over.

  14. […] Division, sparking serious concern among environmentalists, and then its was announced that the EPA has confirmed 42 of 48 permits for mountaintop removal in the coal country of Appalachia, sparking criticism from environmental groups. posted by ornate […]

  15. Disappointing? What? Did no one see this coming? Obama is the one that stood beside Jay Rockefeller in OHIO and said “West Virginia is the Saudi Arabia of coal.”

    What more did you need?

    Does anyone remember the candidate who said he would “support a ban on mountaintop removal”? No! No one paid any attention.

    There’s an old saying that voters get what they deserve. Well, we got it – change we can believe in………………………………..

  16. Ironic that this comes out the same day as approval for disaster status….

  17. PDXile says:

    Wait, so the EPA announces that it has some concerns with a certain number of permits so they’re temporarily putting a hold on all MTM permits pending a review by the agency. Then, many reporters and environmentalists jumped the gun and assumed this was announcement of a new policy toward MTM and possibly a moratorium on all MTM permits. Now the EPA has announced that it’s giving the green light to most of the permits it put on hold, but holding back a handful of permits that they have concerns about. This gets some reporters and environmentalists up in arms, declaring Obama to be a fraud.

    Neither Obama nor the EPA have reversed themselves on anything. The only thing that has changed is your perception of what they were doing. The people who are pointing out that Obama never promised an end to MTM are right — I think lots of people projected onto Obama certain political views or certain intentions that he never actually stated himself. Putting your hope, faith, or trust into a politician is a mistake. If you do, you will always be disappointed. You have to hold them accountable and try to make them do what you want, not just hope or assume that they’ll do the right thing.

  18. WVexpat says:

    PCXile has it correct… Didn’t anybody else smell “fast tracking” when the EPA made the announcement? I’m guessing EPA held up the same permits which had out-of-compliance issues under the former administration.
    The media (whether centrist mainstream corporate media or dissenting progressive media) is either biased, reactionary or just plain misinformed about most any issue, so learn to read between the lines and recognize all sides of the debate whenever an article, post or story gives you visceral reaction.

    Let’s all have post-paid envelopes, pre-addressed to their reps and sens, ready to send a hand-signed letter at any time a critical vote or debate could be swayed by public pressure.

  19. coalfire says:

    I think this is a good direction. No, I do not think we should blow every mountain top off but, I do not think we should sacrafice jobs at this point in the ball game. Most seams that are mined by MTR cannot be mined any other way. Many families rely on this type of mining practice to bring food to the table. I wonder how many people that are very hostile toward the mining industry relies on it for their lively hood. In closing I will say that the mining industry does shoot their self in the foot. Think of all of the projects that could be done to the property of these reclaimed mine sites. Shopping malls, housing developments, cattle farms and so on.

  20. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    PDXile,

    You may be right … I’d suggest folks go back and look at this blog post:

    http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2009/03/21/where-does-obama-stand-on-mountaintop-removal/

    I think it spells out what Obama said during the campaign pretty clearly.

    I agree that the media and activist response to EPA’s March announcement made it look like Obama was doing something he wasn’t — but if you go back through Coal Tattoo, you’ll not see me reporting that he was going to end mountaintop removal. What I’ve tried to do is keep asking exactly what he was going to do.

    Obama and EPA have said they have concerns. But they haven’t spelled out very clearly exactly what they’re going to do differently from Bush. That’s what I would like to see.

    Ken.

  21. […] Division, sparking serious concern among environmentalists, and then its was announced that the EPA has confirmed 42 of 48 permits for mountaintop removal in the coal country of Appalachia, sparking criticism from environmental groups. […]

  22. Brandon says:

    Hooray! Hooray! Thank You, Obama!! This is the first time I have been able to say this. Oh, by the way, what a perfect picture of a blast going off near Kayford Mountain. I work on that job, and it is the highest paying surface mine in West Virginia. The operator there make $24.40 an hour across the board. WOW!! That is a lot of tax dollars there, considering there are 300 employees on that job.
    Oh well, on with my story. I am glad to see the Obama Administration putting the lives of Americans over special interest groups wishes for a “change”. West Virginia can not survive without mountaintop mining. Who would help in the floods, such as is going on in the southern part of the state? I don’t see the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, etc. helping the people of West Virginia in a time of need. What do I see? Coal companies. That’s right, bet you won’t see that on this website of this newspaper. Heaven forbid the coal companies doing something good and the public finding out about it. The only time you will see any of the environmental clubs in West Virginia is when they can make the news or the front page of the newspapers. Here is proof of the coal companies helping: http://www.wvcoal.com/news/wvcoal-news/822-flood-recovery.html
    Also, some of you talk about the courts, well if you remember a couple of months ago a federal court of appeals voted to allow these permits of mountaintop mining: http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2009/02/14/court_allows_mountaintop_mining/?rss_id=Boston+Globe+–+Today's+paper+A+to+Z
    So, you guys are saying to go to the courts and the companies have. Just because you don’t agree with the courts, the proper channels have been followed. How does the EPA go above a federal court? Are they above the law? That’s like a circuit judge sending someone to jail for dui and a magistrate letting him out of jail. Doesnt make sense. I am for a greener environment, but lets not jump the gun. It’s going to take some time, but for now we have to have coal.

  23. […] are digging themselves out of dirty muck from heavy floods exacerbated by mountaintop removal, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said 42 out of 48 permits (87.5 percent, to be exact) to blow the tops off of Appalachian mountains “environmentally […]

  24. […] he explains. In a post last week, Mr. Ward noted that the Obama administration had approved 42 of 48 proposed mountaintop mining projects. This appears to reflect how the administration, the United States and many other countries remain […]

  25. […] Obama today: [T]he Obama administration has cleared for approval nearly all of the mountaintop removal mining permits that the EPA has been reviewing. […]

  26. […] continue to dig themselves out of the muck, indefatigable Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward is reporting on his Coal Tattoo blog that the EPA has “signed off on almost all (87.5 percent, to be exact) of the mountaintop removal […]

  27. […] continue to dig themselves out of the muck, indefatigable Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward is reporting on his Coal Tattoo blog that the EPA has “signed off on almost all (87.5 percent, to be exact) of the mountaintop removal […]

  28. […] to comment on the EPA’s ruling that 42 of the 48 Mountaintop Removal mining permits were ”environmentally responsible”.  I’ve documented plenty of reasons why coal use needs to be phased out, and “clean coal” is […]

  29. […] to comment on the EPA’s ruling that 42 of the 48 Mountaintop Removal mining permits were ”environmentally responsible”. I’ve documented plenty of reasons why coal use needs to be phased out, and “clean coal” is a […]

  30. Rebecca says:

    I’m thinking of everyone in the mining region up here in Jersey. I live in the shadow of a PSEG coal power plant (otherwise known as the Poisonous Smog Emissions Generator…) I read about the 42 permits with depression and outrage. I’ve been writing letters, but please let me know if there’s anything else folks up here can do toward ending the destruction of the Appalachians.

  31. civil joe says:

    Brandon,

    I’m with environmental groups volunteering on flood cleanup in Mingo – and one of your friends told us we’re “not welcome here.” I’m glad you don’t believe the same. Certainly all the residents whose houses we cleaned up agreed that, despite less rain this year, the floods were much worse than when there was larger rain events four years ago, and many said they’ve only been flooded in the last year-and-a-half (three or more floods since the beginning of “construction” of the King Coal Highway). “Who would help in the floods” isn’t a valid question if there were no floods before clearcutting, valley fills and destruction of subsurface drainage.

    In my opinion, making a transition in Appalachia is difficult but necessary because of the total stranglehold coal has on jobs down here. Change has to happen sooner or later (certainly in the 20 years before Don Blankenship, Nick Rahall and the USGS say coal runs out!) if people’s lives are going to improve – but we can’t make things worse first.

    1. Risks that endanger people’s lives, such as poisoned water, unstable valley fills and blasting near residences, need to be reversed, not just stopped.
    2. Quality & quantity of jobs – surface mining jobs have to be replaced with high-paying, prolific jobs with better benefits and less risks to us and our communities
    3. Employment – the coal fields have some of the highest unemployment rates in the country. We can’t afford to lose any jobs in the transition to sustainable jobs (read: jobs that will always exist).

    If there are only 20 years of economically-feasible coal left, and coal is destroying any potential for jobs after those 20 years (destroying clean and reliable water for living and industry, topsoil, undisturbed subsoil and wind potential) then it’s not true that “West Virginia can not survive without mountaintop mining.” In fact, stopping mountaintop removal ASAP is the only way Southern WV will have jobs past 2030.

  32. Bill Wolfe says:

    Ken – Hate to say I told you so, but this “misunderstanding” (see excerpt from your post below) was no accident – this is Lisa Jackson’s MO: spin some faux quasi tough regulatory sounding fluff and use the positive press and enviro support. I followed Jackson closely in NJ:
    No one jumped out ahead of Jackson – she got caught spinning.

    “Some in the media — and a lot of folks in the advocacy blog arena — jumped out ahead of what Jackson had announced, and made out like President Barack Obama was putting a stop to mountaintop removal, with a permit moratorium. Within hours, EPA was issuing a statement to clarify what it was up to, and since then Obama officials have kind of dodged the question of what their long-term plan for dealing with mountaintop removal was going to be (this despite the president’s own statements that damage from large-scale strip mining wa “horrendous””

    Wolfe

  33. […] coalfields continue to dig themselves out of the muck, indefatigable Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward is reporting on his Coal Tattoo blog that the EPA has “signed off on almost all (87.5 percent, to be exact) of the mountaintop […]

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  35. Sounds like I was right NOT to vote for our current President. Speaks an excellent game but apparently, doesn’t come through as needed to stop this devastation.

    Yes, I see all too well how this is going to shake down.

  36. Yes, I see all too well how this is going to shake down

  37. us drugstore says:

    Hi. I would be interested to know which permits are still being investigated in Ohio, which have been dropped, and why they are or are not being investigated at this point.

  38. Cindy I like you agree with the business as usual attitude with the permits. It never changes.

  39. […] that interview, Rahall reminded us that EPA previously released for issuance more than three dozen mining permits it had earlier expressed concerns about.  As Rahall noted, […]

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