Just one month after a US circuit court of appeals in Virginia overturned a ruling banning mountaintop removal coal mining, the EPA steps up to the plate to address the issue. The agency has sent two letters to the US Army Corps of Engineers expressing concerns about the environmental impact of two new coal mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky:The letters state the coal mines would likely cause water quality problems in the streams below the mines, would cause significant degradation to streams buried by mining activities, and that the proposed steps to offset these impacts are inadequate.
The EPA has also requested meetings with the Corps and mining companies seeking new permits to discuss how to better protect streams, wetlands and rivers.
Time to Move Beyond Coal
Praising the EPA's actions, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said,
We applaud EPA Administrator Jackson for her timely decision to intervene and review the most destructive form of coal mining.
Already close to 2,000 miles of streams have been contaminated or destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining, and communities throughout the Appalachian region suffer daily from contaminated drinking water, increased flooding, and a decimated landscape.
Today's announcement sends a clear signal that it is time to move beyond coal and toward clean energy solutions that will create good, green jobs here in America.
So How Does the Army Fit Into This?
In case you're unfamiliar why the Army Corps of Engineers is involved in all this: The Corps is responsible for issuing permits under the Clean Water Act for surface coal mining operations that impact streams, wetlands, and other waters. As in, all of them. The EPA then reviews these permits, commenting on them "to ensure that proposed permits fully protect water quality."
Though this move by the EPA is being spun by people both for and against mountaintop removal coal mining as being a ban on the practice—the National Mining Association going so far as to say that the action amounts to a moratorium on 200 pending mining applications—all that has happened is that the EPA has commented on two specific applications.
Heading off the enthusiasm/dismay that the original announcement caused, the EPA issued a clarification,
The Environmental Protection Agency is not halting, holding or placing a moratorium on any of the mining permit applications. Plain and simple. EPA has issued comments on two pending permit applications to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressing serious concerns about the need to reduce the potential harmful impacts on water quality. EPA will take a close look at other permits that have been held back because of the 4th Circuit litigation. We fully anticipate that the bulk of these pending permit applications will not raise environmental concerns. In cases where a permit does raise environmental concerns, we will work expeditiously with the Army Corps of Engineers to determine how these concerns can be addressed. EPA’s submission of comments to the Corps on draft permits is a well-established procedure under the Clean Water Act to assure that environmental considerations are addressed in the permitting process.
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