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EPA's Lisa Jackson to Mountaintop Removal: "I'm Just Not That Into You."

Rob Perks

Posted October 2, 2009 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places, Solving Global Warming

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, following through on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's pledge to restore science to environmental regulation, has ruled that all 79 pending applications for mountaintop removal coal mining would violate the Clean Water Act.  The agency's review of each permit deemed that the dumping of mining waste into streams would cause significant damage to water quality and the environment.

This is the result that NRDC, our partners and coalfields residents suffering from this Appalachian apocalypse had hoped for when EPA first put the breaks on these permits a few weeks ago.  There's a real coalfield uprising right now that is forcing change.  We applaud EPA for recognizing what's happening in Appalachia and for acting to stave off the destruction that would result from these proposed mining operations.

So what happens next? 

Unfortunately, the permits are not quite dead yet.  The EPA has ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is authorized to issue the permits, to assess whether changes can be made to them to significantly reduce potential damage.  Specifically, the EPA wants the mine operators to build fewer, smaller so-called valley fills to dispose of debris.  The agency also wants the permits to require more environmental monitoring, more information about mining effects on various watersheds and reviews of proposed mitigation plans.

Coupled with EPA's recent decision to conduct a thorough scientific assessment of the impacts of surface mining, momentum has shifted remarkably from the days prior to the Obama administration when the Corps served as a little more than a rubber stamp for mining permits.  But how much more "study" is really needed?  Let's face it: no amount of "mitigation" can justify the obliteration of America's oldest mountains. 

Good for EPA for beginning to address this travesty, but when it comes to regulating this practice, it's time to end mountaintop removal, not to mend it.

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Comments

Harry BryantOct 3 2009 08:05 AM

The actions by the EPA are great but only a tiny step in the right direction. It only addresses the new permits. The next step has to be making all future permits illegal. Then something has to be done about the hundreds of permits that have already been issued. These are the ones that are resulting in the problems we see now. Longer term we will have to deal with CO2 generation and slurry disposal(hiding). The immediate need is to STOP MTR.

We have to realize that coal as an energy source is not going to go away overnight. We need energy to carry on our abundant existence as we know it. Very few people are going to be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to end coal use until alternatives are available. The bottom line is that electricity in the absence of coal will be more expensive. This means that we either will have to have a lot of money OR learn to conserve. Lifestyle changes for most of us have to be expected. The price is worth the result.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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