One Step Forward, Two Steps Back for Big Coal

The Bush Administration's "midnight rule" change to allow more mountaintop removal coal mining  may have grabbed a lot of attention last week, but that likely short-term win for Big Coal was overshadowed by some bad news that isn't going away any time soon.

Last Tuesday, Bank of America unveiled a new coal policy that includes phasing out its investments in companies that do mountaintop removal mining. You can read what NRDC's Rob Perks has to say about the BofA decision here

As the Alliance for Appalachia noted of the decision: "Thanks to Bank of America for touring mountaintop removal with members of The Alliance for Appalachia, RAN and NRDC this past summer.  It's exciting to see Bank of America take this big step, and we're wondering what's next..."  

In a similar vein, Coal is Dirty wrote:  "I am pretty excited that Bank of America has seen the light and listened to all of your voices for the past couple of years about ending their support of this horrible practice."

But AlterDestiny summed it up best:  "The Natural Resources Defense Council may have struck upon one of the best ways to fight mountaintop removal coal mining: make it socially unacceptable. After taking Bank of American executives on a helicopter tour of mountaintop removal sites, the NRDC convinced the bank to stop funding such projects. In an atmosphere where Bush is implementing all sorts of new rules allowing for mountaintop removal to expand and dump its soils into rivers and creeks around southern Appalachia, new, aggressive strategies are necessary. This is such a reprehensible practice and the only way it survives is because nobody sees the incredible damage to the landscape it causes. If you can take away the funding for these projects by exposing people in power to these hellish operations, you can go a long ways toward putting a stop to it. Kudos to both the NRDC and Bank of America on this one."

Kudos to RAN and all the local and regional activists that have been working on this as well. It's been a team effort.  And let's not forget why this is so important.

Appalachian Voices sums up the stakes this way:  "One of the greatest environmental and human rights catastrophes in American history is underway just southwest of our nation's capital. In the coalfields of Appalachia, individuals, families and entire communities are being driven off their land by flooding, landslides and blasting resulting from mountaintop removal coal mining ...  Mountaintop removal involves clear cutting native hardwood forests, using dynamite to blast away as much as 800-1000 feet of mountaintop, and then dumping the waste into nearby valleys, often burying streams. While the environmental devastation caused by this practice is obvious, families and communities near these mining sites are forced to contend with continual blasting from mining operations that can take place up to 300 feet from their homes and operate 24 hours a day. Families and communities near mining sites also suffer from airborne dust and debris, floods that have left hundreds dead and thousands homeless, and contamination of their drinking water supplies."

And that wasn't the only bad news for the Coal Crowd last week.

In a major case brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Southern Environmental Law Center, a federal court in Asheville, N.C. ruled that Duke Energy must meet stringent Clean Air Act requirements for control of hazardous air pollution from the 800-megawatt addition to its Cliffside coal-fired power plant.  As NRDC explained in a news release:  "The decision is particularly important as it closes what had been perceived as a loophole that allowed similar plants to skirt pollution requirements."

How big a deal is this court decision?  

The legal eagles at Warming Law put it this way:  "The ruling is the most recent instance of a court or other reviewing body effectively informing the Bush EPA that its assorted efforts to circumnavigate, gut, or simply ignore provisions of the Clean Air Act are patently unlawful. Two weeks ago, the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board remanded a permit issued for the "Bonanza" power plant in Utah because the EPA had failed to demonstrate why it should not, pursuant to the Clean Air Act, establish BACT requirements for CO2 for new coal-fired power plants. The Cliffside ruling stands as yet another reminder of how the Bush EPA has targeted a wide range of well-established environmental regulations, such as those seeking to limit long-recognized toxic air pollutants, in addition to its efforts to thwart meaningful regulation of greenhouse gas emissions."

In other words, the "score" last week for Big Coal wasn't really 1-2, with the "win" being the mountain top removal rule change.   That controversial last-minute rule rewrite may very well end up being reversed by the Obama Administration in a few months, whereas the Bank of America and Cliffside court ruling will be reverberating for many years to come.