The Obama administration released a new interagency plan to regulate mountaintop removal coal mining in the six Appalachian states of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Although the plan has been called a step in the right direction by some, opponents of the destructive mining practice are disappointed that the administration has not stepped in to halt it altogether.
The agreement signed Thursday between officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior, and the Army Corp of Engineers aims to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop coal mining. And while it creates greater regulatory and environmental review, it is a clear indication that the administration intends to allow the coninuation of montaintop removal.
The mining practice involves using explosives to blast away the tops of mountains–up to 1000 feet–and removing coal deposits from the debris. The remaining rock is pushed into valleys. The practice changes the landscape, decimates forrests and destroys streambeds.
The new plan deals with the Buffer Zone Rule change put into place by the Bush administration during its last days in office. Within 30 days, the Army Corps will issue a proposal to modify Nationwide Permit 21 so that it cannot be used to authorize the discharge of fill material into streams for surface coal mining activities.
It also ends the streamlined permitting process for mountaintop removal coal mining projects, creating greater oversight by the EPA.
"Mountaintop coal mining cannot be predicated on the assumption of minimal oversight of its environmental impacts, and its permanent degradation of water quality. Stronger reviews and protections will safeguard the health of local waters, and thousands of acres of watersheds in Appalachia," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Environmentalists and many Appalachian communities affected by the mining practice say that greater oversight is not what is needed, but rather that the practice must be stopped. The Obama administration appears unwilling to take that step. Last month, the EPA gave the Army Corps of Engineers the go-ahead to approve as many as 42 new sites and dozens more have applied for permits.
"The real questions for the administration are these: will they stop the destruction caused by mountaintop removal or not? Will they follow the Bush administration’s policies of allowing enormous piles of waste to be dumped into streams, forever burying them, or not?" Joan Mulhern, Senior Legislative Counsel at Earthjustice, said in a release.
"While the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency have talked a good game about reviewing and, we hope, eventually ending mountaintop removal mining, their actions today are not supporting those words. In fact, the agencies are saying today that they are going to allow mountaintop removal to continue," he added.
Willa Mays, executive director of the advocacy group Appalachian Voices, said "Their priorities do not take into account that mountains are being blown up today, and until mountaintop removal coal mining is ended, residents will continue to suffer from high disease rates, floods, and poisoned water supplies directly attributable to this mining practice."
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