Image from Jen SFO-CBN
In what's become a depressingly predictable trend, the EPA's higher-ups have once again chosen to consciously ignore the better advice of their scientists and reverse a long-standing rule banning the dumping of coal mining debris into mountain streams. ProPublica's Joaquin Sapien writes that the reversal will clear the new for a new measure that environmental groups are rightly calling a "gift to mining interests": the ability to dispose of leftover rocks and dirt from mountaintop mining (a practice Bush officials have allowed to expand in recent years) by flagrantly violating the landmark Clean Water Act.
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Even top EPA officials were at a loss to justify their deeply flawed decision, with Administrator Stephen Johnson simply telling Interior Department Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that "nothing in the regulation is inconsistent with the provisions of the Clean Water Act." (The Interior Department needed the EPA's approval before finalizing the rule.) Big Coal and its allies in the Bush administration had spent years fighting a rule that required mining companies to obtain permits before dumping waste into rivers.
A few months ago, a number of environmentalists had met with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Interior Department officials to strongly urge them not to enact the new rules without considering their scientists' recommendations. Just five days later, said OMB officials met with representatives of the National Mining Association. Need I say more?
As Sapien points out, the EPA had twice before found that dropping mining debris -- or as it's commonly referred to, "valley fill" -- into rivers degraded water quality and killed the local aquatic wildlife. One of the studies in question determined that the water tested downstream from a dumping ground had excessively high levels of dangerous chemicals. A coalition of environmental lawyers cited this study and a related brief in submitting their comments to the EPA -- comments that, of course, went unheeded.
The best part of this?
Johnson's letter went on to suggest that the rule will help meet President Bush's goal of promoting "the increased use of clean coal technology in order to reduce our reliance on foreign oil."
Assuming the Obama administration decides to quickly reverse this and other Bush "midnight regulations," it will have a tough road ahead. (As of now, the transition team has "no comment".) For one thing, the process of repealing these rules can grind on for years because of all the legal theatrics (you can bet the coal companies will be fighting tooth-and-nail to ensure the Obama team does not succeed). The other problem is that the worst damage may well have already been done by the time Obama officials reverse these measures.