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Rahall: EPA clears 42 of 48 permits for approval

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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.