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There Goes Another Mountain

Rob Perks

Posted July 28, 2010

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Straightenin' the curves
Flattenin' the hills
Someday the mountain might get 'em
but the law never will

- "Dukes of Hazzard" theme song

As expected, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit for Arch Coal's Pine Creek No. 1 Surface Mine in southern West Virginia. 

 In addition to removing the mountain to access the coal, the company will bury more than 14,500 feet of streams under toxic mining waste and debris.  The permit requires mitigation to the tune of roughly 37,000 feet of new streams that will be "created" elsewhere -- as if engineered waterways could ever compensate for the loss of natural, life-giving headwater streams.

This greenlighted permit is one of 79 applications for Appalachian mountaintop removal operations that EPA froze in September, citing concerns about significant water quality impacts.  Six other permits have been issued since then; 36 have been withdrawn by the applicants; and 36 are still pending. 

The Pine Creek permit is the first to be issued since EPA announced new water quality standards for surface mines in April.  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said then that the agency's tougher standards would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for coal companies to receive permits allowing them to fill valley streams with dirt, rubble and debris generated by mountaintop removal.  In issuing the Pine Creek permit yesterday, EPA released a statement reiterating its commitment to uphold the Clean Water Act when regulating coal mining while insisting that "the improvements to this permit demonstrate once again that the health, waters and environment of coalfield communities can be protected while also preserving the jobs and economic benefits."

So, now another Appalachian peak will be blown to smithereens; two miles of streams will be obliterated; wildlife will be lost; drinking water will be put at risk of contamination; and residents in Logan County along Pine Creek will suffer for the sake of Big Coal.

When, if ever, will the Obama administration realize that it's not enough to regulate an atrocity -- mountaintop removal coal mining must be abolished.

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Earl KillianJul 28 2010 10:23 PM

Doesn't the law also require that land be returned to the Approximate Original Contour? How are the mining companies getting exempted from that little bit of the legislation?

Rob PerksJul 29 2010 10:00 AM

Federal law (SMCRA) requires the restoration of mountaintop-mined sites.
This regulatory requirement, however, ignores the fact that it is impossible to replace the biological functions of a forested mountain whose ecological niche was 400 million years in the making. Regardless, mining sites are
supposed to be returned to their approximate original contour (AOC). This
stipulation requires that mining companies backfill and regrade the flattened mountaintops to closely
resemble the “original surface configuration.” In reality, this never happens, primarily because little guidance exists for defining AOC, and even less has been done to enforce it.

Learn more in NRDC's issue paper, "Appalachian Heartbreak":

Appalachia RisingsAug 2 2010 03:04 PM

Join us on September 25-7 in Washington, D.C. at Appalachia Rising, a mass mobilization calling for the abolition of mountaintop removal and surface mining. Appalachia Rising is is a national response to the poisoning of America’s water supply, the destruction of Appalachia’s mountains, head water source streams, and communities through mountaintop removal coal mining. It follows a long history of social action for a just and sustainable Appalachia.
Appalachia Rising strives to unite coalfield residents, grass roots groups, individuals, and national organizations to call for the abolition of mountaintop removal coal mining and demand that America’s water be protected from all forms of surface mining.

Appalachia Rising will consist of two events. First, the weekend conference, Sept. 25-26, Appalachia Rising, Voices from the Mountains will provide an opportunity to build or join the movement for justice in Appalachia through strategy discussions and share knowledge across regional and generational lines. The second event on Monday, Sept.27, is the Appalachia Rising Day of Action which will unify thousands in calling for an end to mountaintop removal and all forms of steep slope surface mining though a vibrant march and rally. An act of dignified non-violent civil disobedience will be possible for those who wish to express themselves by risking arrest.

For more info, visit

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