Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Beginning of the End for Mountaintop Removal?

An update on the mountaintop removal front courtesy of Appalachian Voices. And no, this is thankfully not an April Fools Day post...

Appalachian Voices Celebrates Historic EPA Action

The science is in, and the Obama Administration is listening. Today’s issuance of guidance by the Environmental Protection Agency is an absolutely historic step in ensuring that the economy, ecology, and communities of Appalachia are better protected from the devastating impacts of mountaintop removal. Citizens from Appalachia and across America are celebrating.

As Senator Byrd said:

“The greatest threats to the future of coal do not come from possible constraints on mountaintop removal mining or other environmental regulations, but rather from rigid mindsets, depleting coal reserves, and the declining demand for coal as more power plants begin shifting to biomass and natural gas as a way to reduce emissions.”

It is in that vein that we expect Congress to follow the Obama Administration’s lead by passing legislation that will permanently protect our homes and communities from mining waste. The Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 1310) currently has 167 bipartisan cosponsors in the House of Representatives, and the Appalachia Restoration act (S. 696) has 10 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate. Change in Appalachia is now inevitable, and the time for Congress to pass this legislation is now!

UPDATE: I inquired with JW Randolph, legislative associate Appalachian Voices about where exactly the EPA announcement places us on the path towards sane and safe regulation of mountaintop removal and coal mining's impact on Appalachian communities, drinking water and ecosystems. Randolph replied:

Its a huge step forward, but not quite on par with Congressional passage of legislation now pending in both chambers of Congress that would provide more permanent and lasting protections for communities in Appalachia and other coal producing regions across the country. Here's a few quick reasons why...

1) EPA's action is a guidance, not a law. A President Palin's EPA could undo this as fast as President Obama's EPA made it happen in the first place. Passing the Clean Water Protection Act (HR 1310) and Appalachia Restoration Act (S 696) this year would make the core goals of this guidance permanent (unless Congress wanted to overturn it of course).

2) Its geographically focused on a few Appalachia states, and won't affect things like the Kensington Gold Mine in Alaska or other communities dealing with the impacts of surface mining and extraction. Passing the Clean Water Protection Act or overturning the Bush Administration's fill rule (ed. note, more on that here), would provide similar protections for mining communities across the country.

3) It focuses mostly on valleyfills and mountaintop removal permits, which is HUGE, but to my knowledge (and I'm still reading through the EPA docs) won't deal with things like underground slurry injections which also have an enormous detrimental effect on water quality in Appalachia and downstream.

So, a GIGANTIC first step in the right direction, an action to be celebrated, a promise fulfilled - absolutely. But we will continue working towards the more permanent protections inherent in passage of Congressional legislation to keep communities in Appalachia and across America safe from the health and environmental impacts of surface mining.
See also:

Jeff Biggers at HuffPo: BREAKING NEWS! Appalachians Hail EPA's Great Victory for Clean Water Act and Justice

Ken Ward Jr. at Coal Tattoo (WV Gazette): Breaking news (NOT an April Fool’s joke): EPA actually does take “unprecedented steps” to reduce damage from mountaintop removal coal mining

Alliance for Appalachia: New EPA Policy Should Protect Communities from Mountaintop Removal

WattHead.org: Science Confirms the Abhorrently Obvious: Blowing Up Mountains Damages Environment, Human Health (Jan 7, 2010)

And the rest of WattHead.org's Mountaintop Removal archives.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Coal still makes up a huge percentage of our energy mix. People need to brace themselves that these new regulations will put a squeeze on the cost of coal. So called "clean coal" technologies do show some promise, but the matter of the fact is that coal is one of the more polluting types of energy sources. Yet the United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal. It will require some invention and new thinking to balance the backlash of higher energy prices and our commitment to diversify our energy portfolio.
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