Today the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in compliance with new Obama administration policy on mountaintop removal coal mining, has proposed eliminating the use of its streamlined permit process for the approval of surface coal mining in Appalachia. For far too long, the use of the infamous Nationwide Permit 21 -- or NWP 21 -- has made it far too easy for coal companies to obtain quick permission to dump excess dirt, rock and debris produced by mountaintop removal directly into the valley -- and their streams -- below mining operations on Appalachian summits.
The proposed regulations, which are now open for a 30-day public comment period, are printed in today's Federal Register. They read (in part):
"[T]he Corps proposes to modify NWP 21 to prohibit its use to authorize discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States for surface coal mining activities in the Appalachian region...The proposed modification would enhance environmental protection of aquatic resources by requiring surface coal mining projects in the affected region to obtain individual permit coverage under the Clean Water Act (CWA), which includes increased public and agency involvement in the permit review process, including an opportunity for public comment on individual projects."
Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo blog dives into the particulars of this regulatory proposal. Suffice it to say that the net result should be positive, as mountaintop removal projects will now require an individual permit, which entails a more stringent approval process. However, the new regs notwithstanding, what is warranted is not a slightly stricter permit approval process but immediate action by the Obama administration to abolish the very practice of mountaintop removal -- the most destructive strip mining on the planet.
After all, what we're talking about is the sheer insanity of permitting the decapitation of entire mountaintops, as seen below:
There ought to be a law against this. And with your help there can be: Help save America's oldest mountains by urging Congress to pass legislation to stop mountaintop removal.
But we shouldn't have to wait for Congress to act on this. The Obama administration should realize that regulating mountaintop removal is not the solution; stopping this mining madness is the only option. I have great hope that if President Obama would actually go see the devastation for himself, he'll order an immediate end it.
We absolutely welcome the Obama administration's increased scrutiny of the world's worst coal mining and remain encouraged by the promise of greater oversight and possible action. However, the true test of the administration's new policy toward mountaintop removal is whether rigorous regulatory review will deliver on the promise of greater environmental protection -- something that can only be accomplished by an outright ban on the cause of Appalachia's senseless destruction.