The Science is In: Out with Mountaintop Removal

Have you heard about the blockbuster scientific study damning mountaintop removal coal mining?  A dozen leading experts in various fields -- biology, hydrology, forestry, ecology -- conducted the most comprehensive research ever undertaken.  Their findings were published today in the most prestigious scientic journal: Science.  In short, this peer-reviewed paper is a strong indictment of the world's most extreme strip mining.  It concludes:

"Scientific evidence of the severe environmental and human impacts from mountaintop removal is strong and irrefutable.  Its impacts are pervasive and long lasting and there is no evidence that any mitigation practices successfully reverse the damage it causes."

You can watch video of the scientists' briefing at the National Press Club; here's a sample of initial press coverage below.

NPR: "Experts urge officials to end mountaintop mining" 

A team of scientists says the environmental damage from mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia is so widespread, the mining technique should be stopped.

This is both an audio and a print story, featuring an excellent slide show of mountaintop mining photos.  NPR also covered the controversy on The Diane Rehm Show yesterday.

Washington Post: "Scientists say mountaintop removal should be stopped"

Mountaintop coal mining -- in which Appalachian peaks are blasted off and stream valleys buried under tons of rubble -- is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits to do it, a group of scientists said.

Scientists quoted in the story blame mountaintop removal for destroying some of the oldest, most diverse forests in North America.  They also explain that this strip mining "obliterates stream ecosystems" -- with some 1,500 miles of headwater streams "wiped from the landscape" so far.  They say the link to this mining and water quality damage is crystal clear -- "like smoking and cancer."  The environmental and health risks associated with mountaintop mining, the article notes, prompted the scientists to take the unusual step beyond data-gathering to take a political stand. 

Associated Press: "Scientists call for end to mountaintop removal"

Twelve researchers from Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia argue the effects are clear, and federal regulators must stop ignoring what they call "rigorous science."

San Luis Obispo Tribune: "Study: Mountaintop-removal mining has too many ill effects"

The unusually strongly worded report in the journal Science presents a new and difficult challenge to the Obama administration, which has upset environmentalists by continuing to approve such permits but has vowed to rely on scientific expertise as it rules on whether to grant permits for the controversial practice.

Coal Tattoo: "Bombshell study: MTR impacts ‘pervasive and irreversible’"

“Mining permits are being issued despite the preponderance of scientific evidence that impacts are pervasive and irreversible and that mitigation cannot compensate for the losses.”

That's a direct quote from yesterday's press conference, points out blogger Ken Ward, Jr.  He also happens to be a noted expert on mining in his capacity as a journalist at the Charleston (WV) Gazette.  Ward goes on to say this "is without a doubt the most significant paper on mountaintop removal to ever hit a scientific journal."

EPA Ignoring Science

This new study -- and the scientists' call for a moratorium on mountaintop mining -- comes on the heels of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's apparent abdication to the coal industry, as evidenced by the agency's new approach of cutting deals with companies so they can continue blowing up Appalachian mountains and burying valley streams under tons of toxic waste. 

Indeed, a story published in today's Inside EPA suggests the Obama administration's more welcome stance on mountaintop removal is driven by politics rather than the science.  The article quotes an unnamed EPA official lauding the "important precedent" set by the recent agreement between the agency and Patriot Coal to allow the Hobet 45 mine in West Virginia to proceed.  This agency insider predicts that other mining companies will approach EPA to cut their own deals so that mountaintop mining can continue in Appalachia.

At it happens, EPA's misguided policy action appears to have boosted the bottom line of Big Coal.  In his blog today, Jeff Biggers notes that coal industry profits are soaring on the news of EPA's deal: 

According to MarketWatch, Patriot stocks "set a new high water mark for the past year."  Thanks EPA!  And just when utilities coal stockpiles have increased during the summer for the first time in 25 years, and out-of-state coal companies are slashing mining jobs and idling higher-cost mines to keep their stock holders happy in a period of slumping demand.

What a coincidence that Massey Energy, the nation's fourth-largest coal company and a company steeped in mountaintop mining operations, has decided to reward CEO Don Blankenship with a hefty pay raise.

So, thanks in part to EPA, more mountaintop removal will mean even more big profits for Big Coal.