West Virginia Fights for Its Right to Remove Mountaintops


Photo credit: Silvia Alba via Flickr/CC BY

The Obama administration clamped down on mountaintop removal mining some earlier this year -- MRM is after all one of the most environmentally destructive practices out there. The EPA issued stricter rules, denied permits for multiple projects, and has generally been pretty good about stymieing the worst MRM operations (there are exceptions). But West Virginia's governor, Jim Manchin, a Democrat now vying for a Senate seat, has decided to protest those rules in an attempt to bolster his campaign -- he's suing the EPA and the Obama administration to try to overturn the rules and to allow MRM operations to resume unhindered.The New York Times reports:

EPA in April issued new guidelines for companies seeking Clean Water Act permits for proposed surface coal mines. To qualify, companies would have to show that their projects would not cause pollutant concentrations in surrounding waters to climb past roughly five times the normal level. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the rules would protect 95 percent of aquatic life and ban operators from dumping mine waste in streams in nearly all cases.

The agency has "usurped the authority of the state and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to oversee and regulate important aspects of our environment, like water quality," Manchin said today. "These actions by U.S. EPA are threatening not only to end surface coal mining in West Virginia but to affect all forms of mining in the state."

Note how lax those regulations are, which are now not only under attack by West Virginia, but the subject of a formal suit: Water pollution is limited to exceeding only 5 times the normal level. And the poor mining operators have been banned from dumping toxic waste in bodies of water "in nearly all cases". Neither seem like too much to ask to ensure that your project -- using explosives to detonate entire pristine mountaintops -- adheres to the Clean Water Act.

To be fair, it's not only Manchin that wants the stricter rules out -- plenty of other politicians, a powerful mining lobby, and business interests want to see the EPA booted out too. West Virginia is coal mining country, after all. But mountaintop removal mining is an abomination, a practice opposed by most Americans. The fact that these operations can't maintain pollution less than 5 times the norm is only further reason to halt MRM.

The president of the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club explains the threat this suit poses: "If the rules were overturned, it would be back to the same old green light for mountaintop removal and back to business as usual," Sconyers told the NY Times. "That's Manchin's legacy to this state." And that's bad news for anyone who likes their mountains with their tops intact, and their streams hosting aquatic life.

More on Mountaintop Removal Mining
Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Stream Damage Could Take 1,000 Years to Fix
EPA Could Revoke Permit of Largest Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine in West Virginia
Stephen Colbert on Why Mountaintop Removal Mining is Awesome

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