The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, following through on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's pledge to restore science to environmental regulation, has ruled that all 79 pending applications for mountaintop removal coal mining would violate the Clean Water Act. The agency's review of each permit deemed that the dumping of mining waste into streams would cause significant damage to water quality and the environment.
This is the result that NRDC, our partners and coalfields residents suffering from this Appalachian apocalypse had hoped for when EPA first put the breaks on these permits a few weeks ago. There's a real coalfield uprising right now that is forcing change. We applaud EPA for recognizing what's happening in Appalachia and for acting to stave off the destruction that would result from these proposed mining operations.
So what happens next?
Unfortunately, the permits are not quite dead yet. The EPA has ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is authorized to issue the permits, to assess whether changes can be made to them to significantly reduce potential damage. Specifically, the EPA wants the mine operators to build fewer, smaller so-called valley fills to dispose of debris. The agency also wants the permits to require more environmental monitoring, more information about mining effects on various watersheds and reviews of proposed mitigation plans.
Coupled with EPA's recent decision to conduct a thorough scientific assessment of the impacts of surface mining, momentum has shifted remarkably from the days prior to the Obama administration when the Corps served as a little more than a rubber stamp for mining permits. But how much more "study" is really needed? Let's face it: no amount of "mitigation" can justify the obliteration of America's oldest mountains.
Good for EPA for beginning to address this travesty, but when it comes to regulating this practice, it's time to end mountaintop removal, not to mend it.