The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week took additional steps to slow the development of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia.
The Agency requested that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revoke three "nationwide 21" mining permits previously granted for mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia and Virginia.
The permits are for A&G Coal Corp.’s Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine in Wise County, Va., a Massey Energy mine in Kanawha County, W.Va., and a Frasure Creek Mining operation in Mingo County, W.Va.
The permits will be processed, instead under the Clean Water Act’s individual permit process, which should allow for much more scrutiny of the mining process.
The news comes only weeks after a delegation of Appalachian coalfield residents met with the EPA in Washington, D.C. urging the Agency to take quick action to protect their communities from the ravages of mountaintop removal coal mining.
The move is the latest signal that the Obama Administration may take definitive action to stop this destructive form of coal mining.
Last month the EPA announced it would begin reviewing all permits issued by the Corps.
A federal judge recently blocked the Corps of Engineers from continuing to use the Nationwide permitting process. And a bi-partisan bill introduced in the Senate would effectively ban mountaintop removal coal mining all together, if passed.
"This is a great day! I am hopeful it means the beginning of the end of the wholesale destruction of the Appalachian Mountains, its watersheds, its streams, its people, and its soul," said Kathy Selvage, vice president of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS).
In the EPA’s recommendation that the Army Corps revoke these permits, the Agency raised concerns about the mine’s impact on waterways that were not addressed in the "nationwide" permit.
Residents near the Ison Rock Ridge also expressed their concern with the proximity of the proposed mine to their homes. Portions of the permit are within the corporate limits of the town of Appalachia and surround several other nearby communities.
"I’m so relieved and grateful the EPA has taken this action," said Gary Bowman, whose home is only hundreds of feet away from a proposed sediment pond for the permit. "We were stuck between a rock and a hard place with this permit and are so happy that we will be able to stay in our home."
Mary Anne Hitt, Deputy Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. "There is much more work to do, but President Obama’s EPA has taken bold action on mountaintop removal coal mining, and we applaud their intervention."
The Ison Rock Ridge permit, covers nearly 1,300 acres and would destroy three miles of streams and fill nine lush valleys with more than 11 million cubic yards of rock and dirt. The massive mountaintop removal coal mine would surround the community of Derby, bringing destruction within a half mile of the historic district, eliminating the community’s tourism appeal, community members said.
"I’m walking on air," said Derby resident Bob Mullins, who recently returned from a meeting with the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "I feel like we’ve finally accomplished something. This is a great victory to start with and now it’s time to get our friends and neighbors together to continue fighting for the cause and building this movement that is truly gaining momentum."
Mountaintop removal mining is a destructive form of coal mining that has already contaminated or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams. The mining poisons drinking water, lays waste to wildlife habitat, increases the risk of flooding and wipes out entire communities.