Fate of Biggest US Mountaintop Removal Mining Project to be Decided This Year

Mountaintop Removal Mining Site. Photo via the NY Times
Future of Mountaintop Removal Mining Hinges on Outcome
If any of you are familiar with my past postings on the topic, you'll already be aware of my general attitude towards the practice of mountaintop removal mining. To those who aren't, this should sum it up: It's an inexcusable abomination. So, needless to say, my interest was more than piqued when the Times ran an article on the case that could determine the fate of the practice for years to come: The case of the Spruce 1 project in West Virginia, one of the largest-ever mountaintop removal proposals ever. The federal government is currently mulling whether or not to veto the project, which was approved during the Bush administration. Here's the NY Times:

the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration, in a break with President George W. Bush's more coal-friendly approach, has threatened to halt or sharply scale back the project known as Spruce 1. The agency asserts that the project would irrevocably damage streams and wildlife and violate the Clean Water Act.

Because it is one of the largest mountaintop mining projects ever and because it has been hotly disputed for a dozen years, Spruce 1 is seen as a bellwether by conservation groups and the coal industry.

Whether or not mountaintop removal mining damages streams and wildlife, and whether it violates the Clean Water Act, is essentially moot in the decision -- it absolutely does each of those things. There's no question about that. The Times report points out that under the current proposal, at least 7 miles of river and stream would filled in with blasted materials, many of which are toxic. The real question is indeed one of politics, though not in the manner of the coal advocacy group quoted in the piece, which says the only reasons the project has been halted are "political; the only thing that has changed is the administration."

That's not quite right -- in addition to a change of administration, so too has a desire to take the latest science on the subject into account. And the recent science is devastating -- in one of the most frankly-worded scientific papers I've ever read, 12 leading US scientists called for the practice to be flat-out banned. No, the politics that matter here are those that bind the Democratic Party to the coal industry and to unions -- delivering a major blow to mountaintop removal mining delivers a major blow to the mining industry, the way they see it. And at a time when Dems are faltering in the polls, those ties are given serious attention.

So, it's unlikely that we'll have that decision from the feds before the November elections. Here's to hoping the EPA's better senses win out -- nobody, not Democrats or Republicans, wants once-pristine mountains to look like this:

More on Mountaintop Removal Mining
Stephen Colbert on Why Mountaintop Removal Mining is Awesome
EPA Takes First Step on Mountaintop Removal - Are More Needed?

Tags: Coal | Conservation | EPA | United States