Coal Tattoo

Southern West Virginia Congressman Nick J. Rahall continues to brag that he’s the only thing stopping legislation that could end mountaintop removal coal mining, telling Charleston Gazette editors:

I single-handedly blocked efforts in Congress to abolish mountaintop removal mining. … I have always tried to take the best interests of West Virginia to heart.

Observers seem to think that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Sure, the Clean Water Protection Act has more than 170 co-sponsors in the House. But a similar bill in the Senate has less than a dozen, and the legislation’s prospects in the Senate seem slim.

But still, Sen. Robert C. Byrd observed before his death that the practice of mountaintop removal “has a diminishing constituency in Washington”, saying:

Most members of Congress, like most Americans, oppose the practice, and we may not yet fully understand the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the health of our citizens. West Virginians may demonstrate anger toward the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over mountaintop removal mining, but we risk the very probable consequence of shouting ourselves out of any productive dialogue with EPA and our adversaries in the Congress.

So it’s probably important for West Virginians and others in the Appalachian coalfields to understand that 50 members of the House of Representatives just last week wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in support of his agency’s crackdown on mountaintop removal. Their letter, which I’ve posted here, said:

When scientific research shows that surface mining routinely violates downstream water quality standards, it is critical for EPA to ensure that states and mining companies are aware of the pollution levels that cause harm, that discharge permits incorporate adequate safeguards, and that the permits are enforced.

The letter also praises EPA’s moves to veto the Spruce Mine:

One of the largest surface mines in Appalachia, it would bury more than seven miles of headwater streams, directly impact 2,278 acres of forestland, and degrade water quality in streams adjacent to the mine. This proposed veto, an extremely rare action in the history of the Clean Water Act, demonstrates the EPA’s seriousness in curtailing mountaintop removal.

In a related move, EPA lawyers late last week opted not to file a legal brief arguing why the agency should be able to withhold from the public EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin’s recommended determination on the Spruce Mine veto.  Does that mean EPA is planning to release the document prior to the Nov. 2 election?  EPA isn’t saying yet, but there’s another court deadline coming up this Friday that might give us some answers to that one.