Coal Tattoo

EPA offers straight talk on coal permit ‘clarity’


My buddy David Fahrenthold at The Washington Post this morning gave readers his take on the recent happening in coal country, with a piece headlined, “EPA crackdown on mountaintop coal mining criticized as contradictory.”

Here’s what we in the business call “the nut graph” —

 … To many people in Appalachia, the orders coming out of Washington, especially one this month, have appeared contradictory and mysterious, signing off on some mines and blocking others. Environmentalists are unhappy because they fear federal officials are losing their nerve to take on the powerful coal industry. The coal industry is unhappy because it thinks the administration is on the brink of giving in to the green crowd.

To each side, it looks like the EPA hasn’t made up its mind. Which would make now the time to yell as loudly as possible.

The story quotes WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman explaining his thought that EPA’s appearance of indecision on mountaintop removal is creating some of the bitter conflict here in the coalfields:

They didn’t have a well-thought-out plan whenever they did this. And that’s really been the basis of the uproar. [Confusion over the EPA’s intentions] creates fear, and that brings out the worst in people.

silva-new.jpgMaybe so.  But the part of the story that floored me was where the assistant EPA administrator for water, Peter Silva, took on directly and forcefully this idea that the industry and its coalfield political friends are just looking for the Obama administration to “clarify” what the permit requirements are going to be.  Said Silva:

The notion of ‘clarity’ invoked by some West Virginia officials and industry representatives has too often meant letting coal companies do as they please, with little or no consideration for the harmful impacts on Americans living in coal country.

Wow.  That’s and unusually straight-forward response from a federal agency. And don’t forget, this is a guy whose nomination to the EPA slot was briefly blocked by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. Sen. Byrd apparently lifted his hold on Silva’s nomination after he met with Silva.

There was apparently more to Silva’s prepared statement that wasn’t included in the Post story … here’s the rest of it:

Under this Administrator, the EPA believes clarity comes from following emerging science and the law and sending a simple message that we are willing to work with companies to figure out how to mine coal while reducing the environmental and health impacts.  EPA’s recent decision on West Virginia’s Hobet mine is an example where EPA’s collaboration with the company cut stream impacts by half, reduced water contamination, increased the amount of coal extracted, and protected both public health and hundreds of jobs.”