Shocking News: EPA to Greenlight Mountaintop Removal

My friend Jeff Biggers, a noted author on Appalachia and a strong ally in the fight against mountaintop removal, just emailed me the link to his latest HuffPo blog with a one-word note: "depressing."  One click revealed the shocking, utterly heartbreaking news that the Environmental Protection Agency appears poised to let the Army Corps of Engineers proceed with its plan to approve dozens of MTR permits that have been under scrutiny by order of the Obama administration.

Say it ain't so, Lisa Jackson!  The new EPA administrator, who has rapidly restored "environmental protection" to the agency's mission, made a bold move back in March by blocking a handful of pending mining permits and holding up nearly 200 others.  When asked about her rationale, "Action" Jackson explained

"EPA has a job to do when it comes to those permits, which is to review the permits specifically with an eye towards tracking down and identifying any significant impact on water and water quality.  EPA will review permits.  It will identify those permits that have the potential to significantly impact water quality.  It will comment on those permits.  It will do that in a very open and transparent manner.  And in those cases where our comments aren't heeded, we won't hesitate to elevate or take whatever other actions are necessary.  The statute actually allows us to elevate and then, if necessary, even object to permits being issued.  It's a scientifically based, permit-by-permit job.  We were saying nothing more, and we continue to say nothing more, other than that we will do our job.  It is a very important job."

UPDATE: According to a letter released today by West Virginia's Rep. Nick Rahall, the EPA's review has raised environmental concerns about 6 pending permits but the agency "does not intend to provide additional comments on the remaining 42 permits."  Thus, the Corps is free to issue these destructive MTR permits.

As someone who has witnessed mountaintop removal first-hand, I can't help but wonder how any type of review would result in actually greenlighting the worst strip mining in the world.  Just stop and consider this:  Across Appalachia, companies are blowing entire mountaintops to smithereens to get at the thin coal seams below.  The communities of the region are paying the cost in their health, their culture and their natural heritage.  For too long big coal companies, in effect, have been allowed to blast our nations' oldest mountains into molehills.

This is not hyperbole; this is fact.  See for yourself in this video we shot recently in West Virginia.


Now comes word that EPA is set to approve 42 out of 48 MTR permits -- more than were approved during the entire Bush administration -- which could lead to the destruction of hundreds more miles of Appalachian streams and thousands of acres of forests -- along with the flattening of peaks and filling of valleys.

In his post today, Jeff Biggers cut to the heart of the matter:

Since President Barack Obama has taken office, an estimated 300 million pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosives have been detonated across our American mountains.

In effect: Residents in the mountaintop removal areas have been subjected to a kind of waterboarding environmental policies.

All well-meaning intentions aside, an indubitable fact remains: mountaintop removal is an immoral crime against nature and our citizenry, a human rights violation and it must be abolished, not regulated.

He's absolutely right, of course -- just as all Americans are right to be outraged by the prospect of this administration selling out Appalachia to the coal companies that for so long have reaped the spoils while spoiling that region.

In her short time as EPA head, I have been so impressed by Lisa Jackson.  Up to now I've applauded every policy decision she's made because the changes she's spurred have so clearly been based on putting public health and environmental protection above polluter profits.  It's hard for me to believe that she -- or the Obama administration for that matter -- would settle for the status quo when it comes to the Appalachian apocalypse.   

For now, I simply choose not to believe that EPA will permit this rogue mining to proceed as planned.  Otherwise this dirty trick would sacrifice the people of -- and the special place that is -- Appalachia at the altar of dirty coal.