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Mountaintop Removal Mining Continues Despite Obama’s Pledge Earthjustice

Text 1 The Guardian April, 1, 2010

New regulations will put an end to mountaintop mining

Obama administration proposals will make destructive mountaintop mining operations effectively impossible

The Obama administration effectively called time today on one of the most destructive industries in America, proposing new environmental guidelines for mountaintop mining removal.

The move was seen as a bold action from the White House, which has in the past disappointed environmental organisations for failing to move more aggressively on pollution and climate change.

But in a conference call with journalists, just an hour after the administration for the first time finalised regulations setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, officials spelled out guidelines that they acknowledged would make it virtually impossible for mining companies in Appalachia to carry on with business as usual.

The economics of mountaintop mining removal involve a highly destructive practice of blasting through hundreds of feet of mountaintop to get at thin but valuable seams of coal. The debris is removed to « valley fills », and nearly 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia have been buried beneath such fills.

In recent years, opposition to the practice has spread from local activists to celebrities, with Robert Kennedy Jr and Darryl Hannah demanding an end to the method.

Lisa Jackson, the head of the Enviromental Protection Agency, said today it is unlikely that valley fills would meet the new standards. « You are talking about either no or very few valley fills that are going to be able to meet standards like this, » she said. « What the science is telling us is that it would be untrue to say you can have any more than minimal valley fill and not see irreversible damage to stream health. »

Jackson said the new guidelines were not intended to end coal mining. But she admitted it would be hard work for mining companies to meet the new standard.

« They are going to require folks to roll up their sleeves to protect water quality, » she said. « We believe that they are often going to need adjustment to projects proposed because of these new guidelines. »

The guidelines laid out by Jackson today would set limits on conductivity in streams near mining sites. The electrical conductivity of streams is seen as a measure of the presence of harmful pollutants.

Officials said the new policy, which will apply to all new proposals and some 79 permits now under review, would protect 95% of aquatic life in streams in Appalachia.

EPA scientists have established that streams with conductivity greater than a certain level – 500 microsiemens per centimetre, a measure of salinity – were irreparably damaged. Officials said today the EPA would block any proposed operations projected to exceed its figure.

Today’s guidelines mark a gradual tightening of conditions for mountain coal mining. Last week, the EPA took the rare step of vetoing a West Virginia mine that had already been granted a permit.

Tbe EPA said the Spruce Number One mine, which was approved under George Bush administration in 2007, would bury up to seven miles of stream, and that toxic chemicals would hurt aquatic life. If approved, it would have been the largest mine in West Virginia.

The National Mining Association immediately condemned the move, saying it would cost jobs throughout Appalachia.

The Rainforest Action Network said: « The EPA has finally taken a leap to protect America’s mountains and drinking water. »

Text 2 Washington Post

Mountaintop Letdown

President Obama’s decision will enrage environmentalists, but it’s the right one. Thursday, June 11, 2009

DURING THE campaign and after his election, President Obama left environmentalists in coal country with the distinct impression that he was going to do away with mountaintop removal mining in the Appalachians. That’s where coal companies expose coal seams by stripping the dirt and rock covering them or blasting the tops of mountains to bits with dynamite and then, under legally defined conditions, dump the debris into valleys. It’s a particularly destructive practice, but it’s legal. And it will remain so under a memorandum of understanding the Obama administration will announce today.

When the Environmental Protection Agency announced in March that it was going to review 200 pending surface mining permits spread over six states, many environmentalists believed it marked the beginning of the end of the technique they say has buried 2,000 miles of streams and clipped the tops off 500 mountains. But last month the EPA blocked just six of 48 proposed projects — and today’s agreement among the Army Corps of Engineers, the Interior Department and the EPA puts in place an

interagency plan that the administration believes will strengthen regulations for mountaintop removal projects while allowing them to continue. It will more vigorously enforce a 1983 rule requiring a 100-foot buffer between valley waterways and debris and toughen the permit review process.

While Mr. Obama may have wanted voters to believe otherwise, he never flat-out said he would end this brand of mining. His decision reflects energy and political realities. Coal will remain an essential energy source for some time, while ending mountaintop removal mining would require action in Congress. There it would be opposed by coal-state members whose help Mr. Obama needs to get the more ambitious climate-change bill passed. Would we rather see a better way to extract coal? Certainly. But vigorous enforcement of the laws can help protect the environment until viable energy alternatives render the practice unnecessary.


27 SEPTEMBER 2010, 1:17 PM

Liz Judge

Mountaintop Removal Mining Continues Despite Obama’s Pledge

The destructive mining practice cannot go on at the expense of Appalachians

On the campaign trail, President Obama shared his thoughts about mountaintop removal mining:

We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains. We’re tearing up the Appalachian Mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuels … Strip-mining is an environmental disaster … What I want to do is work with experts here in West Virginia to find out what we need to do to protect the waterways here. That’s going to be a primary task of the head of my Environmental Protection Agency.

This, if it happens, would be a sea change from the previous administration’s EPA, which effectively wrote loopholes and exemptions into that law that allowed mining companies to evade longstanding regulations, sidestep basic Clean Water Act protections and dump their mountaintop removal mining waste directly into Appalachia’s waters, contaminating drinking water supplies for communities and burying important streams.

Nearly two years into President Obama’s term, we’ve seen small steps toward reducing the destruction of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, but the fact is: President Obama and his administration are still allowing this devastation to continue. The Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA are still permitting mountaintop removal mining permits in Appalachia, despite the regulations of the Clean Water Act.

The people and waters of Appalachia are not experiencing equal protection under the law. The impact of this is tragic: Their mountains are being torn down, their waters poisoned,; their cancer rates are higher and their children and communities are being threatened by enormous earthen dams of toxic coal sludge.

This weekend, hundreds of Appalachians traveled to Washington, DC, to demand equal protection under the Clean Water Act and call for an end to the devastating practice of mountaintop removal mining. Today, they rallied in front of the White House as a part of the organized Appalachia Rising event, defending their right to clean and healthy water.

While thousands of people from Appalachia and other parts of the country organize in the nation’s capital to save their mountains and waters from the bulldozers and draglines of coal companies, Earthjustice is working within the courts to force the government and these agencies to follow and enforce the law, so that the waters of Appalachia are protected from contamination and the communities can be healthy well into the future.

For more on Earthjustice and our work to stop mountaintop removal mining, watch this three-minute video created by Plum TV, featuring Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen and Mari-Lynn Evans, the executive producer of the acclaimed documentary film Coal Country, which Earthjustice helped support.