In a move to potentially regulate one of the most polluting industries left in America, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun maneuvering to position itself to review of the impacts that mountaintop removal (MTR) mining for coal has on water. The practice, which quite literally removes the tops of mountains to expose buried coal seams and then dumps the waste into streams and rivers, has long been recognized as polluting by environmentalists and scientists, but has to date escaped scrutiny by the EPA.
The Bush Administration did it's best to streamline the process for companies to receive permits which have traditionally been reviewed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Essentially, Bush helped, for eight years, the coal industry keep it's stranglehold on power generation, despite rising costs. However, two events that occurred in late March have placed greater scrutiny on the practice.
On March 31, U.S. District Judge, Joseph R. Goodwin, issued a ruling preventing the Army Corps of Engineers from permitting companies for nationwide mining operations, instead requiring the companies to get specific plans for each “mine” approved before they receive a permit. Imagine that, these poor coal companies have to actually get a location specific approval to blast the top off a mountain and fill creeks and valleys with the toxic waste. Oh the humanity.
Also in the last week of March, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a letter concerning the permitting of two mines in Kentucky and West Virginia. The letter raised serious questions about the impacts the operations would have on the water quality of the region. Many communities have suffered ruined groundwater and polluted wells as a result of MTR, and apparently the EPA thinks that they have some role to play in whether and how this type of mining should continue.
President Obama has called the practice “horrendous” and has promised that his administration will examine the practice to see just how horrendous it truly is. Jon Lovett, director of the Appalachian Center for the Environment and Economy puts it bluntly, “There is no practice in this country as environmentally destructive as large scale surface mining.” It seems that through these and other measures, the nearly 200 year reign of King Coal may slowly waning as we move into the second decade of the 21st century.