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Obama Administration Actions Are NOT Enough
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by Bill Price, Sierra Club Environmental Justice Coordinator | 2009

New policies on Mountaintop Removal Mining will do little to improve the situation of Appalachian coalfield communities

Recently, the Obama Administration announced steps to end the fast-tracking of certain mountaintop removal coal mine permits and to add tougher enforcement in Appalachia, important steps that – with additional actions – could greatly reduce the devastation to communities, waterways and mountains. However, these new policies alone will not improve conditions in Appalachia unless the administration uses its authority to enact federal regulations to end mountaintop removal as hundreds of mountains and communities remain at risk.

Some of the measures proposed to be taken by the Obama Administration include:

Requiring more stringent environmental reviews for future permit application for mountain top removal mines.

Within 30 days the Army Corp of Engineers will issue a public notice proposing to modify the Nationwide 21 Permitting to preclude its use for surface coal mining activities.

Strengthening EPA coordination with states on water pollution permits for discharges from valley fills and state water quality certifications for mountain top removal mining operations.

So what does that mean? Good question and one that will be answered over the next months. Everyone agrees that this is not enough. We have had over 30 years of regulation of mountain top removal mining and we have never had enforcement of the law.

As Vernon Haltom of Coal River Mountain Watch says, “This is a necessary but inadequate action by the Obama administration,” Without a significant change in policy, mining companies will continue to destroy our mountains and bury our streams on the Obama administration’s watch. They need to put a stop to this, and they’re not doing so.”

The ultimate answer to this problem is a rule change that will end the use of valley fills and ban the practice of mountain top removal mining and the passage of the Clean Water Protection Act. Will the Obama Administration do that? We all need to see that they do!!

To highlight the communities and natural areas still at risk in Appalachia, and to allow the public to track and comment on mountaintop removal coal mining permits, the Sierra Club has launched the “What’s at Stake” Web site, with help from actor Ashley Judd. 

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