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EPA Gets Proactive With New Curbs on Mountaintop Removal
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by From Sierra Club Media Team | 2010

Its a new day at the EPA and how they will address the abuses of Mountaintop Removal coal mining!

The US Environmental Protection Agency has taken very important proactive steps that will have far-reaching impacts on mountaintop removal mining (MTR) in West Virginia and throughout the nation. EPA chief Lisa Jackson has directed the agency into enforcement action that should go far to curb some of the worst abuses of mountaintop removal.

The valley fills that go hand-in-hand with MTR are, in effect, the enablers that make MTR possible. Many coal operators, as well as state regulators, have stated repeatedly that coal mining, both MTR and other, depends on being able to ignore various laws meant to protect streams. Jackson’s EPA is acting to put an end to such scofflaw mining.


Spruce MTR Permit Vetoed

The EPA has decided that the proposed Spruce MTR site — a huge mountaintop removal mine that would devastate thousands of acres of southern West Virginia mountains and streams and forests — cannot go forward. In their words, “The Regional Administrator has reason to believe that the Spruce No. 1 Surface Mine as currently authorized could result in unacceptable adverse impacts...” and “EPA has reason to believe the project as currently authorized would cause or contribute to significant degradation of waters of the United States.”

In effect the EPA has used its authority under the Clean Water Act to veto an earlier permit. That permit would have allowed the mine operation to bury seven miles of streams under rubble blasted from the mountaintops. If it had gone forward Spruce No. 1 would have been the largest mountaintop removal coal mine in the U. S.

The complete EPA Spruce “determination” is available at: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/e77fdd4f5afd88a3852576b3005a604f/d19f832b77dbb0af852576f200567ba5!OpenDocument


EPA Announces New Water Quality Standards: “No or Very Few Valley Fills”

In a broader decision, the EPA has announced the most significant administrative action ever taken against mountaintop removal coal mining. Citing new as well as existing irrefutable science, the agency moved to establish protective guidelines.

EPA Secretary Lisa Jackson has directed the regional EPA offices that issue permits to “benchmark” the levels of runoff from proposed new mines. If a mining operation would exceed the permissible standard, then the permit would be denied. It is expected that the guidelines will prohibit most MTR operations and their valley fills.

According to the EPA announcement (emphasis added): “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a set of actions to further clarify and strengthen environmental permitting requirements for Appalachian mountaintop removal and other surface coal mining projects, in coordination with federal and state regulatory agencies. Using the best available science and following the law, the comprehensive guidance sets clear benchmarks for preventing significant and irreversible damage to Appalachian watersheds at risk from mining activity. Mountaintop removal is a form of surface coal mining in which explosives are used to access coal seams, generating large volumes of waste that bury adjacent streams. The resulting waste that then fills valleys and streams can significantly compromise water quality, often causing permanent damage to ecosystems and rendering streams unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking. It is estimated that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining. “The people of Appalachia shouldn’t have to choose between a clean, healthy environment in which to raise their families and the jobs they need to support them. That’s why EPA is providing even greater clarity on the direction the agency is taking to confront pollution from mountain top removal,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We will continue to work with all stakeholders to find a way forward that follows the science and the law.”

In the words of EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, “You’re talking about no or very few valley fills that are going to be able to meet standards like this.”

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