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Appalachia Says 'Not Good Enough' to Obama Mountaintop Mining Plan

By Stacy Morford

Jun 11, 2009

If the Obama administration wants to protect the people and mountains of Appalachia, it needs to end the destructive practice of mountaintop mining, not settle for promises of stricter scrutiny of the mining permits, advocates say.

This morning, the White House announced what it described as an “unprecedented” agreement among the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department to better coordinate and tighten the agencies’ oversight of mountaintop mining and to review the mining existing laws.

In a memorandum of understanding, the agencies promised to:

• Require more stringent environmental reviews for future mountaintop mining permits, including using the Clean Water Act to reduce contamination in streams and watersheds;

• Propose a rule change to stop allowing a type of nationwide permit that doesn’t require site-specific reviews for mining operations to dump the mineral-laden debris of former mountaintops into streams;

• Strengthen oversight of state agencies, both in their permitting and enforcement;

• And, if the U.S. District Court vacates the Bush administration’s 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule as requested, return to the 1983 rules restoring the 100-foot buffer zone around streams for mining waste.

These are all steps in the right direction, but they aren’t enough, says Willa Mays, Executive Director of :

"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."

Advocates across Appalachia echoed her concern.

member Teri Blanton:

“It’s always a good thing to protect people and water, but this announcement is not an end to mountaintop removal. As Wendell Berry has stated, you can’t regulate an abomination.”

Co-Director Vernon Haltom:

"Without a significant change in policy, mining companies will continue to destroy our mountains and bury our streams on the Obama administration’s watch. They need to put a stop to this, and they’re not doing so."

Executive Director Judith Petersen:

"By moving to end the Nationwide Permit, the administration is making it harder for coal companies to bury streams and promising tougher enforcement. But we believe that if fully enforced, the Clean Water Act would prohibit filling streams with mining waste, making mountaintop removal coal mining nearly impossible."

In the coal-rich mountains stretching from West Virginia to Tennessee, mining companies have flattened more than 1 million acres of Appalachia by razing the trees and then blowing off the mountaintops to get at the coal seams.

Their practice of pushing the mountaintop “overburden” into the neighboring valleys has filled more than 700 miles of streams and hundreds of miles more with traces of nickel, lead, cadmium, iron and selenium. Residents describe how changes to the terrain have exacerbated flooding, and the heavy metals that leach into the streams have poisoned their wells, fish and wildlife.

Two bills currently in Congress would begin to tackle the problem by expressly prohibiting coal companies from dumping their mining waste in streams. Versions of the in the House and the in the Senate were first offered in 2002. So far, though, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have failed to pass them.

The White House doesn’t have to wait for Congress to act, says Earthjustice legislative council Joan Mulhern:

Attachment Size
Final MOU on MTR.pdf 223.7 KB

At the end of the day, these

At the end of the day, these coal still remains one of the cheapest power sources - that's why its still being mined. Yes, it is disappointing, but you have to be realistic from an economic perspective.


Good work! Your article is an excellent example of why I keep comming back to read your excellent quality content that is forever updated. Thank you!


I am very disappointed in the Obama administrations foot dragging policy to do the right thing. Coal companies will surely mine coal in the future......Why can't they just stop mountain top removal right now!!!!!!!! It is so wrong. There is no excuse for this destruction to go on.

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