Coal Tattoo

Obama’s plan for mountaintop removal …


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.