After a year-long analysis of the science and consideration of 60,000 public comments, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued final guidance on how mountaintop removal coal mines in Appalachia must comply with the Clean Water Act.
In addition to improving the agency’s oversight and compliance with existing requirements of the law, the guidance reaffirms the essential role of science in evaluating proposed mountaintop removal mining permits.
The final guidance is based on the latest peer-reviewed science on stream pollution and protection, including two comprehensive new scientific reports released by EPA this year that reveal how mountaintop removal mining harms the integrity of vital waters and natural resources.
"We’re glad to see Administrator Lisa Jackson follow through on her commitment to finalize this important staff guidance, which is a considerable step toward giving Appalachian communities their rightful protections under existing law and following sound science," says Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice.
"But clearly, as long as mountains are being blown up and leveled in Appalachia, streams are being buried with mining waste, and waters for communities are being contaminated, the Obama administration has more work to do in making sure the government is following the Clean Water Act," she says. "This is a strong first step, though, and we hope to see this followed up with serious implementation and a hard look at how much longer our federal government will allow mountains to be destroyed and Appalachian communities to suffer. This guidance is only as protective as its implementation and the test will be whether we finally see compliance with the Clean Water Act which prohibits significant degradation of our nation’s waters."
The EPA released interim guidance in April 2010 for public comment after scientific studies showed lasting, irreparable harm from mountaintop removal mining. The EPA also found there had been serious non-compliance in the permitting process with important existing legal requirements. In 2010, the EPA requested public comment while also implementing the interim guidance in Appalachia. The EPA stated that it would issue final guidance by 2011.
"Of course we hoped for more, but given the current political climate in Washington, we have nothing but praise and gratitude for EPA finalizing this guidance and reaffirming the scientific support for their actions," says Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. "Now more than ever the waters of Appalachia and we who depend on them need EPA to stand strong on our behalf."
"Every week I test the conductivity of the streams in my community. Everything in the stream is dead because Kentucky officials are not doing their jobs. We need action today if we are to have any hope that our streams will one day recover," says Rick Handshoe, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.
"In the absence of any meaningful regulation by state agencies, our communities must depend on the EPA to protect our lives, homes, and water. Now, the coal industry and their political allies are working to take away the EPA’s ability to use law and science to protect us," laments Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia.