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EPA Okays First Mountaintop Removal Mining Project Under New Guidelines

Decision made quietly disappoints opponents, skirts science

By Matthew Berger

Jul 7, 2010

The EPA has given tentative – and quiet – approval to a new mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia. It is the agency's first decision under the new guidelines it issued April 1 which promised to prevent "significant and irreversible damage to Appalachian watersheds at risk from mining activity."

Environmental groups say the approval, which was indicated in a letter last week, shows the agency is not serious about sticking to those stricter new regulations and the science behind them.

In mountaintop removal mining, coal mining companies strip away forests then blast the bare mountaintops to cut through hundreds of feet of rock and reach the coal seams buried below. The dynamited rock, soil and unearthed heavy metals, collectively called "spoil" or “overburden,” are dumped into adjacent valleys, often burying streams that wildlife and area residents depend on. Toxins from those mine sites that make it into the water and air have been blamed for health problems including birth defects and chronic heart and lung diseases.

But the EPA contends its modifications to the proposal for the Pine Creek Surface Mine, which are laid out in the letter, will bring the project into compliance with its new guidelines and that its final approval depends on whether those recommendations are sufficiently taken into account.

The letter outlines changes that Coal-Mac Inc., the applying company and a subsidiary of coal mine giant Arch Coal, "needs to make in order to fall under the principles laid out in the [EPA's] April 1 guidance on surface mining," according to a statement the EPA issued to SolveClimate. "A final decision on this project has not been made and EPA is waiting for a response from the Corps and the mining company regarding our comments."

As word has gotten out of the EPA letter, dated June 21, the extent of the changes the agency recommends has come under attack. The main point of contention for environmental groups is that just three months after issuing the long-awaited new regulations, the agency would sign off yet another mountaintop mining project that they say will be just as damaging as those approved prior to the regulations.

Disappointment the Theme

Bill Price, a Sierra Club environmental justice organizer in West Virginia said they "had high hopes" for the new mountaintop removal guidance. "But apparently we were mistaken."

"For us it's a really disheartening and scary test of what we thought were really exciting new guidelines," Rainforest Action Network's Nell Greenberg told SolveClimate.

This disappointment stems largely from comments EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson made in announcing the new guidelines. “You are talking about either no or very few valley fills that are going to be able to meet standards like this," she said.

Those standards have to do with the amount of mining runoff that is allowed to pollute stream water. This is measured in conductivity, or the amount of salt in the water, and the EPA set a maximum conductivity level of 500 microSiemens per centimeter. That means mines would be allow to pollute up to that point, or to roughly five times the normal levels of salinity.

This new, stricter standard was praised by environmental groups, especially because the EPA had proposed vetoing the permit for the biggest surface mine in West Virginia, the Spruce No.1 mine, the week before. In announcing the new regulations, the agency cited Spruce No.1 as a mine that did not meet the new standards. That mine is also owned by Arch Coal.

Arch Coal did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

I am against it. Living in a

I am against it. Living in a coal rich area of West Virginia, I have seen the negative effects that MTR has on the environment.
When I was younger, many WV residents were employed in the coal industry. Now, these same people are scraping by while trying to find work anywhere they can (that has only been over about 15 yrs/i am 26)........
MTR needs to stop before people from WV are a thing of the past.

Which side are you on...?""

You're either against MTR or you're for it. There is nothing in between. The "new" EPA guidelines are a good starting point, and will hopefully slow down the process, but most of us will not be satisfied until MTR and all surface mining is no longer allowed. We're concerned over water for sure, but water is only one component of the environment. There's the soil which takes eons to form, there's the trees which take hundreds of years to become a stable part of the ecosystem, there's all the fauna which are dependent on a ecosystem that isn't disrupted, and of course there are the humans who live and are part of the mountains.

I responded to ur post, just

I responded to ur post, just not correctly......look above ur post!!!

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