EPA and US Army Corps Forcing Real Change With West Virginia, Mountain-Top Removal Permit Limits

article 1 us constitution photo

Closeup of Article 1, page one, US Constitution. Image credit:ThisNation.com

I can always tell when USEPA has struck just the right balance. Everyone gets upset and then things settle down as real compromise is achieved. On mountain top removal, for example, EPA and the Army Corps seem to me to have got it about right.

West Virginia's coal industry reps and the Governor are on their anti-EPA soap boxes, grumbling like tea 'par-tiers,' while environmental groups and green bloggers are complaining that EPA and the Corps have not done nearly enough, some even offering that coal burning should be banned outright. That leaves an opening for Agency permit writers to do a run up the middle, staying within their respective statutory authorities, so that even the most stringent permit limitations will be upheld in the courts. Here are the facts on the ground, West Virginia permitting-wise.

As reported in last Sunday's West Virginia Gazette, 23 of the 79 permits undergoing close EPA review were for mines in West Virginia. Of the 23 WV permits examined, two were withdrawn, leaving 21 in play. Now here's the important part...

"Only one of the remaining 21 [WV] applications has actually received EPA and corps approval."

From the WV Gazette:

In that case -- concerning Patriot Coal's Hobet 45 permit -- EPA pushed the company to cut its stream impacts in half, while maintaining 91 percent of its projected coal production, over what the corps and the DEP had agreed to allow. Mullins said that nine of the other 20 permits are ready for the applicant companies to meet with EPA, the corps and DEP this week in Charleston. The other 11 applications are not yet ready for such detailed meetings, she said.
Clearly, the Feds are in town and the coal industry no longer holds all cards. Production will be scaled back somewhat, and impacts mitigated significantly, or permits will not be issued.

Congress is not going to suddenly ban all coal mining and coal power. Regulatory agencies have one choice and one only: act within statutory authority, and in accordance with the resources Congress allocates.

Don't forget, there is a formal public hearing process on draft and final permit issuance, at which community, state, and national testimony can be offered. This is how democracy works.

If outsiders are seen to demand too much, overlooking local needs, there will be push back after the next congressional elections. For a backgrounder in how this works see my earlier post: The Pendulum Effect: Review And Prospects For Sustainability.

In the meantime, here's an excerpt from a comment left below the cited WV Gazette story (typos corrected by me). He raises a good point. Extreme demands result in more extreme demands.

Blame a tree hugger for having to leave because of lack of work of any kind. Do you really think that tree huggers will allow wind farms to be built? Or, power grids to be built? In the paper just today the PSC is already looking for ways to stop a wind farm before it even starts. Making them do bat studies, putting money aside. What a joke and then you tree huggers have the nerve to talk about no jobs.
Let's let EPA and the Corps do their job for a year or two, see the monitoring results, and then decide if it's time to push harder.