Obama’s plan for mountaintop removal …

June 11, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.


Photo by Vivian Stockman. Flight courtesy of Southwings.

Obama administration officials earlier this afternoon outlined their plans for dealing with mountaintop removal for the media.

sutley.jpgNancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said various agencies are taking “unprecedented steps to reduce the impacts of mountaintop coal mining” in Appalachia.

You can listen to the entire conference call by clicking this button:

But I’ll try to summarize.

Administration officials announced that they are taking a series of short-, medium- and long-range steps that they say will allow mountaintop removal to continue, but reduce the impacts to communities and the environment.

jacksonmug.jpg“Mountaintop coal mining cannot be predicated on the assumption of minimal oversight of its environmental impact, and its permanent degradation of water quality,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson (who, oddly, did not take part in the conference call). “Stronger reviews and protections will safeguard the health of local waters, and thousands of acres of watersheds in Appalachia.”

Among other things, the Obama officials announced that they would propose to re-write an Army Corps of Engineers streamlined Clean Water Act permit procedure so that coal-mining valley fills could not be authorized through that process. As I pointed out this morning, a federal judge has already thrown out Nationwide Permit 21 for coal-mining operations.  Obama’s Justice Department earlier this week filed a notice that it plans to appeal that decision. Sutley told reporters today that this filing was a procedural step (to preserve a potential appeal), and that no decision had been made yet on whether DOJ will actually fight to overturn the ruling.

hayes-portrait-high.jpgDeputy Secretary of Interior David Hayes emphasized that his agency is seeking to revoke the Bush administration’s changes to the stream buffer zone rule, an action that Interior had already announced more than a month ago.

What Hayes didn’t explain — even in response to a pretty direct question — was whether Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement would apply the buffer zone rule to the footprint of valley fills, a move that would block new fills in perennial and intermittent streams.  Until we know exactly how OSMRE under Obama plans to interpret the rule, the move to overturn the Bush changes really doesn’t mean a darned thing.

terrence_rock_salt_090302.jpgsussmanthumbnail.jpgAnd neither  Terrance “Rock” Salt, acting assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works (far left), nor Robert Sussman, a deputy EPA administrator, indicated exactly what plans the administration might have for revisiting changes to the Clean Water Act “fill rule” that made it a non-tool for regulating mountaintop removal.

What else?

Well, the agencies did release something they’re calling the “EPA letter to the Department of the Army Regarding Key Factual Consideration for Surface Coal Mining Permit Review” (phew). This is apparently meant to spell out the guidelines for how EPA will review Corps of Engineers’ proposals to issue Clean Water Act permits for valley fills.

And, they posted copies of a Memorandum of Understanding among the Corps, EPA and Interior on Implementing the Interagency Action Plan on Appalachian Surface Coal Mining and a separate memo on something called “Enhanced Surface Coal Mining Pending Permit Coordination Procedures.”

Sutley told reporters that President Obama has expressed “serious concerns about impacts” from mountaintop removal and that these documents represent “federal agencies working together to take the President’s message on mountaintop coal mining into action.”

“We are committed to powering our country while protecting health and welfare in the Appalachian region, securing access to clean streams and safe drinking water, and honoring our clean water laws,” Sutley added.

11 Responses to “Obama’s plan for mountaintop removal …”

  1. Cindy Rank says:

    … listening in on the press conference a couple of hours ago, all i can say is “been there, done that…”

    We could have played a tape of conversations from 1998-99 after our initial Bragg v Robertson litigation instead of doing a 45 minute conference call…..

    New faces and new voices, but the same old same old…… There was a lot of dancing around the issues on this call and not much concrete indication that we’re moving forward…..

    Hopefully i’ll be proven wrong and this time around something will actually come of whatever good intentions exist but were fairly well hidden in the conference call today. ….. At this moment i for one will not be holding my breath.

  2. Bruce Watzman says:

    For the benefit of your readers and in the interest of complete transparency it should be noted that the agency documents also reference stimulating “green jobs.”

    According to report issued earlier this year by the Apollo Alliance, jobs in wind and solar pay between $21,500 and $44,000 per year on average. Coal miners in W.Va. earn on average $66,000/year, excluding overtime and benefits.


    Bruce Watzman

  3. Bob Mooney says:

    Ken, you have done another superb job of pulling a lot together extremely fast — thanks.

    This media teleconference was not easily done — getting agency together on anything is extremely difficult.

    It was impressive that the agency statements were made within 11 minutes, but disappointing in only 19 minutes being allowed for questions.

    Yes, much of what was said has been said before. (The people saying it well knew that too.)

    Now to walk the talk — permit processing certainty and responsible regulating.

    P.S. Regulating is not about making happiness, it’s about being consistent and accountable.

    CEQ press release

  4. FactsFirst says:

    Not only do they pay substandard wages, a study done in Spain on its green jobs experiment disclosed that despite being a heavily subsidized energy source, renewable energy sacrificed two high paying jobs for every one job it created. So we can’t wait–fewer jobs and lower pay! But not to worry, these same job crushing groups are also fighting putting up turbines in WV–as we see in today’s story in the Gazette.

  5. As ever, thanks, Ken. I agree w. Cindy. BTW, posted a link to this on Facebook and Catherine Pancake (Black Diamonds) liked the piece.

  6. Lance Houser says:

    Yes, let’s make blowing the tops of mountains environmentally, culturally, and healthily good. It can’t be done and they are once again just dancing around issues that can only be solved in one way: make MTR illegal. This practice cannot continue and have any sort of impact on Appalachia, climate or anything else that can be reasonable and lived with.
    Thanks for the quick updates. I have been posting links to them on twitter.

  7. […] Ken Ward Jr.’s blog: Administration officials announced that they are taking a series of short-, medium- and long-range […]

  8. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    For those who don’t know — Bruce Watzman, who comments above, is a lobbyist for the National Mining Association.


  9. Bob Mooney says:


    I take offense that you have ID Bruce Watzman — The Google does that just fine, like it does for most of us.

    What Mr. Watzman posted seems undisputed.

    Most of us in Florida would now welcome jobs paying even $5/hour — or even less.

  10. eastwood78 says:

    Of all the comments that I have read, this takes the cake. Ok, all you guys from Florida, come on up to West Virginia. Massey and the other coal operators would be glad to give you a job for $5.00 per hour. Then they could lay off some of their miners who are making 3 and 4 times that amount per hour. Don’t buy a round trip ticket. Massey and the other coal operators want you.

  11. […] will include this notice from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, making good on part of the Obama administration’s plans for dealing with mountaintop removal coal […]

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