Coal Tattoo

Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, addresses a labor rally of Friday, April 1, 2011 in Waynesburg, Pa.(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Say what you want about my friend United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts, but you pretty much always know where he stands.

Except when he writes op-eds like the one in today’s Gazette, in which he makes like a Chamber of Commerce leader and slams the Obama administration’s effort to keep reducing deadly pollution from coal-fired power plants:

Just as our economy is beginning to climb out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a variety of new rules that will inevitably lead to large-scale unemployment and massive rate hikes over the next several years.

… Tens of thousands of jobs will be lost in the utility, coal and transportation sectors. Hundreds of communities will suffer as their tax bases shrink with the closure of nearby utility plants. Industrial states that were hit hard by the recession and still suffering from high unemployment will take another, needless hit.

Now, there are folks in the regional and environmental community who will immediately jump on this as typical stuff from the UMWA. These folks remain increasingly bitter that Cecil Roberts won’t join their fight to stop all mountaintop removal (or maybe all surface coal-mining).

That wouldn’t be fair.

Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic. All of the publicity about the upcoming march to urge protection of Blair Mountain reminds me of when I met Cecil, more than 20 years ago.

It was the summer of 1989. Cecil was vice president of the union, leading its strike against Pittston, fighting for the health-care benefits of UMWA retirees and widows. It was a young intern at the Gazette, and somebody thought it was a good idea to let me cover the strike (one joke in the newsroom that summer was about how, if there were any trouble on the picket lines, I wasn’t on the company’s health-care plan). UMW leaders were re-enacting the march to Blair Mountain to draw attention to their fight with Pittston (subscription required).

One thing I learned that summer was how so many UMWA fights were not really about the working miners who were doing the fighting, but about either protecting the union’s retirees or trying to ensure a better life for their kids.

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Ignoring the inconvenient facts about coal

We were talking yesterday on this blog about the decades-old problem of West Virginia as natural resource colony, the fact that much of our state’s coal, gas and timber is owned by out-of-state interests and how parts of West Virginia that generate the most of these valuable products remain generally pretty poor.

In a post that started out as simply an effort to note the candidacy of the Mountain Party’s Bob Henry Baber and some of Baber’s comments on the coal industry, I noted this line from a story by the Daily Mail’s Ry Rivard:

… The distinction Kessler makes between “wealth” and “jobs” from the coal industry may be a hard one for him to make given West Virginia’s long history with the industry.

And, I wrote:

Of course, one reason it might be hard to successfully make this case is that media coverage of these issue is so bad.

Today, of course, the Daily Mail hasn’t failed to disappoint, making my argument for me so clearly in an editorial headlined, Of course coal mining creates wealth in W.Va.

The editorial listed a series of facts presented at a congressional hearing by West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts:

— A 2008 study found that the coal industry directly employed 20,454 West Virginians and paid them about $1.5 billion in wages that year. Total compensation rises to $2.8 billion.

— In 2008, coal companies paid $676.2 million in taxes. Over a decade that would be $6.7 billion.

— If the Obama administration, to cater to its political base, were to end surface mining in West Virginia, coal production would drop by more than 40 percent. Of the 537 mines operating in the state, 232 are surface operations.

— Surface mining employ 6,255 people directly — and the employment of a large portion of the 2,340 people who work in coal-handling facilities depends on those mines as well.

And then, the Daily Mail opined:

Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the governor’s race, commented recently that while the coal industry has been “an excellent job creator” for West Virginians, it has “not been a wealth creator.”

If the loss of $2.8 billion in compensation and $676 million in annual tax revenue would be called an economic catastrophe, what should the continuance of that revenue be called?

Easy. Wealth creation.

This is what happens when the news reporting on these issues leaves out a whole bunch of facts that aren’t especially convenient for West Virginia’s coal industry, its friends in the media or its staunch defenders among our political elite.

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I’ve just learned that the Sierra Club and Massey Energy have reached a tentative settlement of the water pollution lawsuit the group filed against Massey Energy about a year ago.

A proposed consent decree, which I’ve posted here, was filed yesterday with U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver here in Charleston.

The deal sets up compliance requirements and a schedule of stipulated penalties for future water permit limit violations. It requires Massey to pay the federal government a fine of $40,000.

And, it requires Massey to pay $400,000 to the West Virginia Land Trust, to help with an environmental law clinic at the West Virginia University College of Law, which is working to protect riparian area protection projects. It’s similar to the settlement made in earlier water pollution case against CONSOL Energy, discussed here.

There’s a new study out from West Virginia University researchers that advances their previous work trying to understand the public health impacts of living near mountaintop removal mining operations (see here, here and here).

Emily Corio over at West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported on this first earlier today, and WVU’s Robert C. Byrd Health Science Center issued this press release on the study:

Research has shown an increase in health disparities as a result of coal mining in Appalachian communities. A new study conducted by the West Virginia University School of Medicine shows that the disparities are especially concentrated in mountaintop mining areas. Those areas have the greatest reductions in health-related quality of life even when compared with counties with other forms of coal mining.

The study itself, published in the current issue of the American Journal of Public Health, concludes:

Residents of mountaintop mining counties reported significantly more days of poor physical, mental, and activity limitation and poorer self-rated health compared with the other county groupings. Results were generally consistent in separate analyses by gender and age.

Mountaintop mining areas are associated with the greatest reductions in health-related quality of life even when compared with counties with other forms of coal mining.

Further:

These disparities partly reflect the chronic socioeconomic weaknesses inherent in coal-dependent economies and highlight the need for efforts at economic diversification in these areas. However, significant disparities persist after control for these risks and suggest that the environmental impacts of MTM may also play a role in the health problems of the area’s population.

Authors of the study were Keith J. Zullig and, yes, our friend Michael Hendryx, both of the medical school’s Department of Community Medicine.

Using a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention four-question survey, researchers talked to residents in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia about their physical and metal health.

Researchers used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the world’s largest telephone health survey systemResidents were divided into groups who lived near mountaintop removal mining, those who lived near other coal mining and those who didn’t live near any mining.

Zullig explained:

Self-rated health and health-related quality of life were significantly reduced among residents of mountaintop mining communities in the unadjusted and adjusted models.

Mountaintop mining county residents experience, on average, 18 more unhealthy days per year than do the other populations. That’s approximately 1,404 days, or almost four years, of an average American lifetime. When mountaintop mining and other coal mining counties were not separated in a previous study, there were 462 reduced health-related quality of life days across an average American life.

Hendryx said that  this study also looked at the health effects on both men and women.  A common belief is that if coal mining causes health problems, those problems are mostly occupational related problems experienced by coal miners themselves, he said.

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A coal truck drives out of downtown Welch, W.Va., Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011. Coal brought a large population to the McDowell County in the 1940’s. Now the population is shrinking and the county suffers from unemployment and poverty. (AP Photo/Jon C. Hancock)

Maybe it’s unfair to criticize the Republican leadership of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure for setting up such a one-sided, clearly scripted hearing aimed at piling criticism on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the Obama administration’s crackdown on mountaintop removal coal mining.

After all, the Democrats in the Senate held a mountaintop removal hearing that wasn’t exactly the most balanced affair around … and this is all just politics, right?

Wrong … this is supposed to be about governing. And that’s why I’m a little sorry I used a pithy headline on yesterday’s post, House hearing: Let the EPA bashing begin!

There are serious issues here on all sides, even if nobody wants to admit that the folks they happen to disagree with have legitimate concerns.

Coal miners are rightly concerned about their jobs and their families’ futures. Folks who live near mountaintop removal mines are rightly upset about the way these mines impact their lives. Scientists are troubled about the growing data showing mountaintop removal’s negative effects on water quality, forests and public health.

But it’s hard to take a hearing like this seriously when it is all so staged, such an obviously one-sided affair and carried out in a manner that does so little to point the region toward solutions that will help deal with the big issues facing the coalfields. And I wonder often if the vast majority of West Virginians — folks who don’t like mountaintop removal,  also don’t like the idea of people losing their jobs, but don’t live their lives obsessed with hating coal or despising the EPA — are put off by the posturing from both sides.

Really now … how far do the industry’s repeated nonsensical arguments about bottled mineral water not meeting EPA’s conductivity standard really get anybody in understanding the water quality issues scientists are worried about? And why do environmental activists persist in trying to make out like coal companies are actually dropping bombs on the people of Southern West Virginia?

And that’s the way yesterday’s hearing went, though because coal’s friends in the GOP House leadership controlled the witness list, the industry’s side of this pointless political game carried the day.

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House hearing: Let the EPA bashing begin!

Right now, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure‘s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment is starting the first of two days of hearings scheduled to bash the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‘s efforts to reduce the dramatic impacts of mountaintop removal coal-mining on the Appalachian environment and coalfield communities.

And as they did yesterday with a staged House hearing on mine safety issues, the National Mining Association is already out there with a press release touting its testimony at today’s committee hearing:

“The deliberate and disruptive policies that have slowed and stopped coal mines from receiving permits to open or expand have consequences that reverberate throughout the region. The consequences begin with the coal supply chain and spread to those that benefit from low-cost coal energy,” National Mining Association (NMA) President and CEO Hal Quinn told the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment in testimony today on the subcommittee’s inquiry into “EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs.”

The hearing will be pretty predictable, but one thing to watch for is how far Rep. Nick J. Rahall, the ranking Democrat, goes in ignoring the negative impacts on his district from coal mining in his effort to out pro-coal the Republians. And it will be fun to see if the National Mining Association is able to point to some actual peer-reviewed scientific research that contradicts EPA’s concerns about the impacts of coal-mining on water quality across the region.

One of the mining industry’s star witnesses will be Michael B. Gardner, general counsel of a company called Oxford Resources Partners, which operates surface mines in Ohio.

In his prepared testimony, Gardner brags about his company’s “dedicated, non-union workforce” and complains bitterly about how EPA officials have handled his company’s applications for Clean Water Act Section 404 “dredge-and-fill” permits. But a couple things jumped out at me about his testimony.

First, while Gardner objects that EPA has not operated in an open and transparent manner with his company, it seems that Oxford hasn’t had any trouble — thanks to help from its local politicians — in scheduling fairly high-level meetings with EPA staffers about specific permit issues.

Second, it’s worth noting that EPA in the end decided to do a more thorough review of only four of the eight Oxford permits it considered for potential placement on EPA’s list for Enhanced Coordinated Procedures.

Next, two of those permits have actually been issued. And the other two were withdrawn by the company — not rejected by EPA (see here, here, here and here).

Finally, while the coal industry wants to complain about what it says are permitting delays under the Obama administration, it’s worth noting that in all four instances, Oxford began coordinating permit activities with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers back in 2005 — when George W. Bush was president. It will be interesting to see if Rep. Rahall asks how much of any delay in permit processing was caused by Bush, as opposed to Obama …

Stay tuned … You can watch the hearing live by going to this link.

The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has set up a two-day series of hearings this week and next to take more shots at the Obama administration and its EPA Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson.

Hearings on “EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs” are set for this Thursday and next Wednesday before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Committee staff have laid out their agenda for the meeting in this briefing paper.

The witness list that’s been published so far is a pretty-one sided affair, with a bunch of industry lobbyists and state regulators set to bash EPA’s efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of surface coal mining in Appalachia. On the other side, there appears to be just one witness, Lisa Jackson.

Republicans run the committee, and they haven’t invited any of the scientists who have published major peer-reviewed studies on mountaintop removal or anyone from the citizen groups who oppose the practice and generally support what EPA has been doing. They don’t even appear to have invited an actual coal miner or anyone from the United Mine Workers union.

With a setup like this, it doesn’t sound like the hearings will accomplish much more than the House Natural Resources Committee’s hearing last week attacking the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement. But at least that hearing included not just OSMRE Director Joe Pizarchik, but also Joe Lovett from the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment — to balance out pro-coal witnesses from International Coal Group and two coal-state regulators who were generally favorable to the industry’s views on the Obama administration.

West Virginia Rep. Nick J. Rahall is the ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. We’ve explained here many times that Rep. Rahall has shown little interest in doing anything to reduce the widespread and devastating impacts mountaintop removal is having on the environment and communities in his district (see here, here and here).

You have to wonder, though, why Rep. Rahall wouldn’t take the baby step of insisting that the Republicans have a bit of a more balanced panel so lawmakers can get the full picture of coal’s impacts on his state and his region.

Judge Chambers remands Massey permit

Catching up on some legal news that I missed from last week … U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers has agreed to an Obama administration request and sent a Massey Energy mountaintop removal permit back to the federal Army Corps of Engineers for another look.

Judge Chambers remanded the Clean Water Act permit for Massey subsidiary Highland Mining”s Reylas Surface Mine in Logan County after the Corps pulled the plug on the permit, saying it wanted to take another look at the proposed operation and its environmental impacts. Remember that environmental groups had challenged the permit. Judge Chambers had issued a temporary restraining order and set a more detailed hearing for next month.

Now, in this two-page order, Judge Chambers not only sent the permit back to the Corps (as the agency had asked), but also ordered the Corps to provide status reports on its re-examination of the permit every 30 days.  The judge said:

In these reports, the Corps, in good faith, shall provide an estimate regarding the anticipated length of the review process, and the Corps shall indicate what issues have already been reviewed and resolved. After a status report is submitted, any party may request a conference with the Court to discuss any issue in the report.

Interestingly, the order also said:

The Court further DIRECTS the Corps to provide to the Plaintiffs and the Highland Mining Company, contemporaneously with its receipt, a copy of any document, and any writing memorializing any contact with outside parties, which will be part of the administrative record.

And:

The Court DIRECTS that should the permit be re-issued by the Corps, any activity under those permits be stayed thirty days after notice of re-issuance to the Court and the parties.

WVDEP appeals major water quality ruling

Well, WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman called it the worst ruling I’ve ever seen out of the EQB as far as a lack of respect for the rule of law, so it probably is no surprise that the agency has appeal the state Environmental Quality Board’s decision in the case over International Coal Group’s New Hill West surface mine in Monongalia County.

I’ve posted a copy of the WVDEP appeal, filed in the circuit court of Kanawha County, here.

Among other things, WVDEP lawyers argue in the appeal:

The board’s findings that numerous scientific studies have shown that declines in stream macroinvertebrate communities directly downstream of surface mining operations are caused by the combined effects of heightened concentrations of ions was clearly wrong in the view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence in the record.



Corps pulls plug on Massey permit prior to hearing

Interesting news came in  last night … The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended a permit for a new Massey Energy surface mine, the Reylas Surface Mine in Logan County, W.Va.

Lawyers for the Corps filed a motion with U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers, seeking a “voluntary remand” of the permit.  Corps officials said they decided to suspend the permit to conduct a further review of it, and said they could reinstate, modify or revoke the permit after that review. The agency said:

The Corps has undertaken further review of the challenged permit decision and has determined that the permit decision merits further consideration

Readers may recall that environmental groups filed suit to challenge this permit, and Chambers issued a temporary restraining order. A more detailed preliminary injunction hearing had been scheduled to start on May 10.

Here’s the Department of Justice’s new legal filing in the case:

Catching up on some legal action from Friday: The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed the appeal of a November 2009 ruling that concluded federal regulators wrongly did not give the public enough input into the review of mountaintop removal mining permits.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers had issued the ruling back in November 2009.  The ruling focused on the federal Army Corps of Engineers’ practice (subscription required) of considering permits to be administratively complete and ready for public notice and comment before some key documents  — most importantly the “mitigation plans” through which companies try to compensate for burying streams — are available for the public to examine and comment on.

Now, the Obama administration had already dropped the federal government’s appeal, and without that the industry was not legally able to challenge the decision on its own.  When federal judges remand a matter to an agency — as happened in this case — only the agency involved has the ability to file an appeal.

On a somewhat related matter, the 4th Circuit has also dismissed an appeal by the coal industry of  a March 2009 mountaintop removal ruling by U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin. Readers may recall that Judge Goodwin threw out the use by the Corps of Engineers of its streamlined process for approving valley fill permits.

NY Times profiles the disappearance of Lindytown

Photo by Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

The New York Times has a lengthy article out that profiles the Boone County community of Lindytown. Reporter/columnist Dan Barry writes:

… The coal that helped to create Lindytown also destroyed it. Here was the church; here was its steeple; now it’s all gone, along with its people. Gone, too, are the surrounding mountaintops. To mine the soft rock that we burn to help power our light bulbs, our laptops, our way of life, heavy equipment has stripped away the trees, the soil, the rock — what coal companies call the “overburden.”

Now, the faint, mechanical beeps and grinds from above are all that disturb the Lindytown quiet, save for the occasional, seam-splintering blast.

Parts of the story reminded me of the package we did for the Gazette many years ago about the demise of the Logan County community of Blair (see here and here). For example, the Times explains:

A couple of years ago, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, which owns a sprawling mine operation behind and above the Richmond home, bought up Lindytown. Many of its residents signed Massey-proffered documents in which they also agreed not to sue, testify against, seek inspection of or “make adverse comment” about coal-mining operations in the vicinity.

You might say that both parties were motivated. Massey preferred not to have people living so close to its mountaintop mining operations. And the residents, some with area roots deep into the 19th century, preferred not to live amid a dusty industrial operation that was altering the natural world about them. So the Greens sold, as did the Cooks, and the Workmans, and the Webbs ...

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Budget deal doesn’t include EPA riders

President Barack Obama visits the Lincoln Memorial at the National Mall in Washington, Saturday, April 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

It sounds like the budget deal late Friday night averting a government shutdown went through without policy riders concerning climate change and mountaintop removal regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

President Obama mentioned this specifically in his statement Friday night:

At the same time, we also made sure that at the end of the day, this was a debate about spending cuts, not social issues like women’s health and the protection of our air and water. These are important issues that deserve discussion, just not during a debate about our budget.

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This just in from The Hill:

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said Friday morning that provisions on mountaintop-removal coal mining are among the sticking points in the down-to-the-wire federal spending-bill talks.

“Curiously enough, mountaintop mining was put on the table late in the game. Who knew that was going to lead to the shutdown of the federal government?” Conrad said on CNN.

… Much of the discussion of environmental issues in the federal spending fight has focused on GOP plans to blocking funding for implementation of Environmental Protection Agency climate change rules.

But Conrad’s comment suggests that other environmental matters are dividing the sides.

The House GOP’s fiscal year 2011 spending plan, approved in February, included several provisions to thwart what Republicans (and some Democrats) call burdensome restrictions on Appalachian coal-mining.

The GOP plan to fund the government through September included Rep. Morgan Griffith’s (R-Va.) amendment that blocks funding for EPA’s effort to toughen water quality protections for Appalachian coal-mining projects.

It also contained a separate amendment by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) that would hinder EPA’s ability to block Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop-removal projects; and Rep. Bill Johnson’s (R-Ohio) amendment that would prohibit the Interior Department from using fiscal year 2011 money to develop rules governing protection of streams from mountaintop-removal mining waste.

UPDATED:  Well, now we have this AP report published by the NY Times website

Senate Democrats briefed on a potential budget deal say that Republicans have agreed to drop House-passed provisions to block the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing new rules on global warming or enforcing several other environmental regulations.

… Such policy issues dropped from the measure include a ban on new greenhouse gas restrictions on power plants and oil refineries, cleanup plans for the Chesapeake Bay and lakes in Florida, and blocking the agency from revoking permits for mountaintop mine sites that pollute rural waters.

Republicans take coal’s fight to OSMRE

Today’s hearing before a House Natural Resources subcommittee was titled, “Effect of the President’s FY-2012 Budget and Legislative Proposals for the Office of Surface Mining on Private Sector Job Creation, Domestic Energy Production, State Programs and Deficit Reduction“.

But from what I could tell, a better name might have been, “Let’s hold a hearing so the Republicans can trash the Office of Surface Mining over a draft study that the coal industry leaked to the press.”

I couldn’t tell from the Webcast, but it looked like the Democrats didn’t even bother to show up. And gosh, you would think that Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, would have learned somewhere along the way to let someone else finish a sentence once in a while.

The whole thing almost made me feel a little sorry for OSMRE Director Joe Pizarchik … almost.  Because let’s face it, his agency is just taking its medicine after leaking that draft Environmental Impact Statement on the stream protection rule and then declining to go on the offensive about some of the possible benefits in terms of reduced environmental damage, well, does anybody really think OSM is handling this whole thing very well?

Even Joe Lovett of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment and Gene Kitts of International Coal Group agreed that the buffer zone rulemaking has become a fiasco.

If the issues underlying all of this weren’t so serious, you could almost laugh about how transparent the GOP’s efforts were in setting up and then carrying out this hearing.

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We reported earlier this week that the Obama administration was going to run its EPA guidance on water pollution from mountaintop removal operations through the White House Office of Management and Budget for its approval.

But is this maneuver, which is sure to delay the guidance being finalized, legal?

Experts at the Center for Progressive Reform, a group which keeps an eye on OMB involvement in regulatory issues, isn’t so sure … In a post on the group’s blog,  Holly Doremus, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, outlined some serious concerns:

… Why is the White House really involved? Because since the mid-term elections it has been only too willing to bend to big-money attacks on regulatory agencies. In January, President Obama grabbed headlines with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal promising to reduce regulatory burdens on business. He followed up with an Executive Order calling on federal agencies to make sure that future regulations impose the least possible burden and to review existing regulations with an eye to weeding out those that are “outmoded, ineffective, insufficient, or excessively burdensome.” The White House might as well have put up a sign on the door reading “Bring us your complaints about excessive regulation.”

That seems to be exactly what happened in this case. Environment and Energy News has posted a letter (subscription required) from West Virginia Democratic Congressman Nick Rahall to OIRA Administrator Sunstein asking that OIRA review the guidance to see if it should be issued as a rule and if EPA jumped through the right procedural hoops. The letter is dated March 29, 2011, just days before EPA announced that OMB will review its guidance. It refers to an earlier meeting between Rahall and Sunstein, so the response may not have been quite as instantaneous as that timeline makes it appear.

Just where OIRA gets the authority to review the guidance is unclear. President GW Bush had issued an executive order calling for OIRA review of guidance documents, but President Obama revoked that order shortly after taking office. Nor does OMB have some special expertise related to whether the EPA’s guidance is a new rule in disguise. OMB knows nothing about the nuances of the Clean Water Act; EPA has a far better understanding of the requirements of the statute and current regulations. It seems that neither legal authority nor expertise is needed to justify centralized review in this White House, however, so long as the political outcry is loud enough.

Of course, one issue here might be how a federal court eventually rules in the lawsuits brought by the mining lobby and friendly state regulators, alleging that the EPA guidance is really a regulatory change … stay tuned …


OMB will review EPA mining pollution guidance

Well, Friday’s self-imposed deadline for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finalize its water pollution guidance for Appalachian coal-mining operations came and went … and EPA made no public announcements of its plans.

Not until Saturday did EPA sent me their statement explaining the move:

Last year, EPA issued interim mountaintop mining guidance to clarify existing requirements under the law and relying on the best available science to protect clean waters in Appalachia. As we announced at the time, we are improving the guidance based on its implementation over the past year, our review of thousands of public comments and scientific reviews conducted by EPA’s Office of Research and Development and independent scientists. The Office of Management and Budget will conduct an interagency review process before final guidance is issued later this Spring.

Stay tuned …

NMA says new study refutes EPA on mining

This just in from the National Mining Association

A new study released today casts doubt on fundamental assumptions used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to justify its regulation of Appalachian coal mining and its controversial new water quality standard.

A year–long study in the mining region of southern West Virginia concluded that, contrary to EPA assumptions, headwater streams – the natural upland channels conveying rainwater and snowmelt on steep slopes – do not function as a “unique and irreplaceable resource” for sustaining the diversity of bug populations.

In a finding that is fatal to EPA’s regulatory assumptions, “These conclusions call into question the need for a [conductivity] limit and suggest that a singular focus on mayflies is not necessarily the best way to evaluate the ecological health of Central Appalachian watersheds,” concluded the report by GEI Consultants.

The study of a dozen headwater streams, prepared by GEI Consultants for the National Mining Association (NMA), concluded that specific water quality characteristics of this ecosystem correspond only weakly to invertebrate populations and do not determine the specific mixture of aquatic bugs found in upland streams as EPA assumes.  Moreover, the mayfly that EPA proposes as an indicator species for determining its controversial “conductivity” standard is not dominant and sometimes not even present in this ecosystem.

The study, “Headwaters Invertebrate Communities in Southwestern West Virginia,” provides no evidence to support EPA’s conclusion that discharges from coal mining operations into the extreme upper reaches of streams cannot be permitted under the Clean Water Act.

“These scientific findings reinforce common sense judgments about the weak rationale for the entire regulatory edifice that EPA has used against coal mining in Appalachia and should certainly raise new doubts about the wisdom of pursuing this course,” said NMA Vice President for Environmental Affairs Karen Bennett.

For a copy of the report by GEI Consultants, see here. Note the document is fairly large and may take some time to download.

For a one-page summary, click here.

Curb on EPA mining oversight in spending deal?

In this Dec. 21, 1995, file photo Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, dumps out coal, his so-called Christmas gift to President Clinton, during a news conference on the federal budget on Capitol Hill. The White House and Congressional Republicans tried to restart balanced budget talks after the sixth day of a partial government shutdown. Then, as now in 2011, a Democratic president clashed over spending priorities with a recently installed Republican House majority. (AP Photo/Denis Paquin, File)

UPDATED:  Politico is reporting that the White House has voiced its opposition to these riders being in the budget language.

For folks following the mountaintop removal issue, the latest Associated Press report on the ongoing budget talks between Congress and the Obama White House had a couple of important paragraphs.

You can read the whole story at this link, but here’s the key part:

A Democratic lawmaker familiar with a meeting Wednesday between Obama and members of the Congressional Black Caucus said the administration made it clear that some House GOP proposals restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory powers would have to make it into the final bill. In order to characterize the White House’s position, the lawmaker insisted on anonymity because the meeting was private.

Some of those proposals would block the government from carrying out regulations on greenhouse gases, putting in place a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and from shutting down mountaintop mines it believes will cause too much water pollution.

Stay tuned …

EQB issues formal order on conductivity

The West Virginia Environmental Quality Board has issued its formal order in the case of International Coal Group’s New Hill West Mine, regarding conductivity in strip-mining water pollution permits.

Here it is: