US EPA Blasted as It Revokes Mine's Permit
The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this month revoked a permit for Arch Coal's proposed Spruce No 1 "mountain top" mine in Appalachia.
It was a decision widely applauded by environmentalists, leading the New York Times to comment:
"If the Obama administration stays the course, this could be the beginning of the end of a mining practice that has caused huge environmental harm..."
Some industry spokespersons certainly seem to fear this may be case - one suggesting the EPA's decision threatened the foundations of the US economy itself.
We might ask what world these people are living in? Judging by the outraged response of Arch, it's one where mining essentially equals investment, equals jobs.
However, according to the company's own figures, its projected quarter billion dollars investment in Spruce would have secured a mere 250 workplaces. (And for how long would those jobs have lasted anyway?)
Even a five-year old can do the maths on that one!
Meanwhile, optimism that the EPA decision heralds an imminent end to mountain top removal has to be tempered.
The co-director of one environmental organisation says Arch Coal did have “a plan that probably would have met the EPA's approval. It still would have buried more than three miles of streams, but it would have cost the company about 55 cents more per ton of coal to do this other plan.
"So it's not…that the EPA is suddenly going to start vetoing permits in mountaintop removal. It's just that Arch Coal didn't want to spend 55 cents per ton to go with the other plan”.
Commentary by Nostromo Research 22 January 2011].
EPA Blasted as It Revokes Mine's Permit
By Stephen Power and Kris Maher
Wall Street Journal
14 January 2011
The Environmental Protection Agency, in an unusual move, revoked a key permit for one of the largest proposed mountaintop-removal coal-mining projects in Appalachia, drawing cheers from environmentalists and protests from business groups worried their projects could be next.
|Sludge dam near mountaintop removal coal mining site in
Logan County, West Virginia. Photo by Kent Kessinger
courtesy Clean Coal is Dirty
The decision to revoke the permit for Arch Coal Inc.'s Spruce Mine No. 1 in West Virginia's rural Logan County marks the first time the EPA has withdrawn a water permit for a mining project that had previously been issued.
It's also only the second time in the 39-year history of the federal Clean Water Act that the agency has canceled a water permit for a project of any kind after it was issued, according to the agency.
The EPA said Thursday it revoked the permit, issued by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2007, because it concluded new scientific research on mountaintop-removal mining since then indicated the potential harm to streams and watershed areas surrounding the Spruce project could be significant.
A spokeswoman for Arch said the company was "shocked and dismayed" by the agency's decision, which it said would block an additional $250 million investment that would create 250 jobs. The company said it would appeal to the courts.
The EPA "deserves enormous credit for changing policies to protect Appalachia's health, land and water," said Mr. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
As the EPA stressed that the permit decision had no implications beyond the Spruce mine, business groups outside the coal industry said the government's action raised questions about whether permits previously issued for other businesses could also be revoked, potentially stranding investments and costing jobs even as the economy continues to heal.
Earlier this week, nearly two dozen industry groups-including the National Realtors Association, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association-urged the White House in a joint letter to stop the EPA from yanking the Spruce mine's water permit. The groups noted that clean-water permits such as the one issued to Arch by the Army Corps of Engineers support roughly $220 billion in economic activity each year.
"This is exactly the kind of practice that will keep capital on the sidelines and slow our economic recovery," said Karen Harbert, CEO of the Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy. "The negative impact...will be felt not only by West Virginians and the energy industry, but across all sectors of our economy."
The decision comes as Republicans in the House of Representatives-along with some coal state Democrats-are considering legislation to curtail the powers of the EPA.
"At a time when West Virginia families desperately need new jobs, the Obama EPA is proactively destroying high-paying family wage jobs by retroactively withdrawing permits," said Rep. Doc Hastings (R., Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
"With this decision, the administration is going back in time to shutdown jobs already approved and underway," he said.
Sharp response came from West Virginia political figures on both sides of the aisle.
"Today's EPA decision is not just fundamentally wrong, it is an unprecedented act by the federal government that will cost our state and our nation even more jobs during the worst recession in this country's history," Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) said.
Mr. Manchin won his seat in last fall's midterm elections after running television commercials showing him firing a rifle at proposed climate legislation backed by President Barack Obama. Mr. Manchin is up for re-election next year.
As criticisms mounted, the EPA emphasized the rarity of its decision.
"The history of EPA's use of our...authority demonstrates clearly that permits are not vulnerable to being revoked," an EPA spokeswoman said. "The Corps authorizes approximately 100,000 projects in the nation's waters every year, which translates to millions of permits during the past 39 years" of the Clean Water Act.
Mountaintop mining is a common practice in Appalachia that involves blasting off the tops of mountains to expose seams of coal and dumping tons of rock and dirt in nearby valleys. Roughly 145 million tons of coal a year, or 11% of total U.S. production, come from surface mines in the region, according to the National Mining Association. Some 27,000 people work in surface mining, mostly in West Virginia and Kentucky, the association said.
Environmentalists and scientists are worried by new research that water running through the debris from the mining operation often picks up metals and minerals, increasing streams' salinity. That could harm fish and plant life. Last year, the EPA announced tighter water-quality standards that for the first time set limits on streams' salinity.
A paper released in January 2010 in the journal Science called for the government to stop issuing new permits. "The science is so overwhelming that the only conclusion that one can reach is that mountaintop mining needs to be stopped," said Margaret Palmer, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and the study's lead author.
Environmentalists expressed hope that the EPA would take a similarly tough position against other mountaintop mines.
"It's our view that many of these projects are going to suffer from the same deficiencies that the Spruce permit did," said Jon Devine, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Many environmental groups are looking to Congress to ban mountaintop mining altogether.
In revoking the Arch Coal permit, the EPA cited more than 100 studies that have been published or completed since the 2007 Army Corps decision that the agency says provide "a far better understanding of the impacts from the project."
It also said, "The determination on the proposed Spruce No. 1 mine is limited to the particular circumstances of this mine."
Those impacts would include disposing of 110 million cubic yards of coal-mining waste, burying more than 35,000 feet of streams that would eliminate fish, salamanders and other wildlife. In announcing its decision, the EPA said the 2,278-acre mine would do "irreversible damage" to the region.
The EPA is reviewing applications for about 80 other mining operations and has allowed some mountaintop projects to go forward. The agency also noted in a statement that it worked with a different mining company to reduce by half the impacts its operations would have on nearby streams.In January, 2010, Patriot Coal Corp. received a permit for an expansion of a mine in West Virginia. The EPA had held up that permit for evaluation on whether surface mining operations pollute local water.
The EPA, in its announcement of the Arch decision, also expressed support for coal. "Coal and coal mining are part of our nation's energy future and EPA has worked with companies to design mining operations that adequately protect our nation's waters," EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Peter S. Silva said in a written statement.
Judge Sides With Coal Industry Against EPA Clean Water Standards
Environmental News Service (ENS)
19 January 2011
WASHINGTON, DC - A federal judge has declined to dismiss a National Mining Association lawsuit alleging the U.S. government has unlawfully blocked surface coal mining efforts in Appalachia by imposing additional requirements for obtaining valley fill permits under the Clean Water Act.
Mountaintop removal coal mining operations need valley fill permits to dispose of the tons of waste rock blasted away to reach coal seams beneath the surface. Coal companies dump the rock into valleys beneath the coal-bearing mountains. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining.
Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Friday denied a motion by the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dismiss the industry's lawsuit.
Judge Walton ruled, "The Court finds the plaintiff's arguments more persuasive and agrees that the plaintiff is likely to prevail on its claim that the EPA has exceeded its statutory authority" under the Clean Water Act by issuing a series of memoranda and a detailed guidance that strengthen the water quality standards that mountaintop removal mining operations must meet.
National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn said, "These assorted actions have been used by EPA to impose a near-moratorium on coal mining permits in Appalachia and to justify the agency's most recent unprecedented veto of the Spruce No. 1 Mine permit."
The Spruce No. 1 mine, as proposed, would bury more than seven miles of headwater streams, impact 2,278 acres of forestland, and degrade water quality in streams adjacent to the mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The mine was permitted in 2007 and but delayed by litigation. The EPA vetoed its permit on January 13.
"The proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend," EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Peter Silva said January 13. (ENS, Jan. 13, 2011)
Quinn said the National Mining Association was "encouraged" by the judge's ruling even though the court dismissed industry association's request for a preliminary injunction to block implementation of EPA's policies.
Quinn said the court agreed with the association's contention that the Clean Water Act envisions a much more limited role for EPA than has recently been pursued by the agency.
"It seems clear ... that Congress intended the EPA to have a limited role in the issuance of Section 404 permits, and that nothing in Section 404 of the Clean Water Act gives the EPA the authorization to develop a new evaluation or permitting process which expands its role," the mining association executive said.
Section 404 permits are issued by the United States Army Corps of Engineers "for the discharge of dredged and fill material into navigable waters at specified disposal sites." The Corps has sole authority to issue Section 404 permits, but in doing so it must apply guidelines that it develops in conjunction with the EPA.
In this lawsuit, the industry association alleges that the EPA "imposed substantive changes to the Section 404 permitting process by creating a new level of review by EPA and an alternate permitting pathway not contemplated by the current regulatory structure."
The industry is challenging a September 2009 assessment in which the EPA identified 79 coal-related pending Section 404 permits that would be subjected to a new "enhanced coordination process" the EPA established earlier in 2009, which the industry is also challenging in this case.
Although the federal agencies "vigorously" argued that that the memoranda and guidance impose no new substantive requirements on permit applications, Judge Walton wrote, "it is clear to the Court that the EPA has implemented a change in the permitting process."
A Clear No for the Spruce Mine
New York Times
20 January 2011
If the Obama administration stays the course, the Environmental Protection Agencys decision last week to revoke a permit for one of the nations biggest mountaintop-removal mining projects could be the beginning of the end of a mining practice that has caused huge environmental harm across Appalachia.
The decision is a tribute to the agency, which faced fierce political opposition and a victory for the West Virginians who worked long and hard to block the mine. It should also be a warning to the mining industry that the days of getting its way, no matter the cost, are over.
The Spruce No. 1 Mine, owned by Arch Coal, would have required dynamiting the tops off mountains over an area of 2,278 acres to reach subsurface coal seams. The resulting rubble, known as spoil, would then be dumped into the valleys and streams below ruining, by the E.P.A.s estimate, six miles of high-quality streams and causing unacceptable damage to the environment.
Thousands of miles of streams in Appalachia have already been poisoned in this manner in clear violation of the Clean Water Act.
The mine received a final permit from the Army Corps of Engineers in 2007. The E.P.A. has long had the power to veto such permits but has used it only once before. This decision provoked predictably outraged responses from industry and its political friends, including West Virginias two Democratic senators, John Rockefeller IV and Joe Manchin III, a former governor.
The Clinton and Bush administrations gave the industry much of what it wanted, but President Obamas E.P.A. has raised the bar. First, it agreed to review existing permits, including the Spruce Mine; then it tightened standards for new permits by insisting on a more rigorous scientific analysis of a proposed mines downstream impact on fish and other aquatic life.
Arch Coal has vowed a court fight, which Mr. Manchin says he will support. A far better use of their energies would be to find a less destructive way to mine coal.
Agency Revokes Permit for Major Coal Mining Project
By John M. Broder
New York Times
13 January 2011
WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency revoked the permit for one of the nation's largest mountaintop-removal coal mining projects on Thursday, saying the mine would have done unacceptable damage to rivers, wildlife and communities in West Virginia.
Arch Coal's proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County has been the subject of controversy since the Bush administration approved its construction in 2007, issuing a permit required under the Clean Water Act. Environmentalists and local residents strongly opposed the sprawling project, and the Obama administration moved last year to rescind the permit, prompting lawsuits by West Virginia and the coal company.
The agency's action on Thursday is certain to provoke an outcry from West Virginia politicians, the coal industry and other businesses that have raised objections to what they consider economically damaging regulatory overreach by the E.P.A.
The coal mining project would have involved dynamiting the tops off mountains over an area of 2,278 acres to get at the rich coal deposits beneath. The resulting rubble, known as spoil, would be dumped into nearby valleys and streams, killing fish, salamanders and other wildlife. The agency said that disposal of the mining material would also pollute the streams and endanger human health and the environment downstream.
The agency said it was using its authority under the Clean Water Act to revoke the permit, an action it has taken only 12 times in the past 40 years. The agency said in a release that it reserved this authority only for "unacceptable cases."
"The proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend," said Peter S. Silva, the agency's assistant administrator for water. "Coal and coal mining are part of our nation's energy future, and E.P.A. has worked with companies to design mining operations that adequately protect our nation's waters. We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on clean water."
An official of Arch Coal, based in St. Louis, said the company would continue to challenge the federal action in court.
"We remain shocked and dismayed at E.P.A.'s continued onslaught with respect to this validly issued permit," said Kim Link, the company's spokeswoman. "Absent court intervention, E.P.A.'s final determination to veto the Spruce permit blocks an additional $250 million investment and 250 well-paying American jobs."
"Furthermore, we believe this decision will have a chilling effect on future U.S. investment," she added, "because every business possessing or requiring a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act will fear similar overreaching by the E.P.A. It's a risk many businesses cannot afford to take."
She was referring to the provision of federal law under which the permit was originally issued and then revoked.
Anticipating the agency's decision, a group of regulated industries wrote to the White House this week asking that the mine be allowed to proceed, and seeking clarification on when the administration intended to use its Clean Water Act authority to block industrial and agricultural projects.
Groups including the National Realtors Association, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association wrote to Nancy Sutley, the chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, asking that the Spruce Mine permit be approved.
The groups said in their letter that if the agency revoked the coal mining permit, "every similarly valid permit held by any entity - businesses, public works agencies and individual citizens - will be in increased regulatory limbo and potentially subject to the same unilateral, after-the-fact revocation."
"The implications could be staggering," they added, "reaching all areas of the U.S. economy including but not limited to the agriculture, home building, mining, transportation and energy sectors."
An agency official said that though the current design for the Spruce No. 1 project had been rejected, the company was free to submit a new proposal, as long as it addressed the potential environmental harm.
Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, who until recently was the state's governor, issued a blistering statement opposing the agency's determination to kill the mining project.
"Today's E.P.A. decision is not just fundamentally wrong, it is an unprecedented act by the federal government that will cost our state and our nation even more jobs during the worst recession in this country's history," Mr. Manchin said. "While the E.P.A. decision hurts West Virginia today, it has negative ramifications for every state in our nation, and I strongly urge every senator and every member Congress to voice their opposition."
He added, "It goes without saying, such an irresponsible regulatory step is not only a shocking display of overreach, it will have a chilling effect on investments and our economic recovery. I plan to do everything in my power to fight this decision."
Environmentalists, on the other hand, praised the revocation of the permit. "We breathe a huge sigh of relief today," said Janet Keating, president of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, in a statement, adding that the move "halts the destruction of Pigeon Roost Hollow," a wooded valley where much of the mining debris was to be dumped.
Ms. Keating said the decision was a milestone in the debate over mountaintop-removal coal mining. "Spruce No. 1 is the only individual permit to have undergone a full environmental impact statement," she said. "The science completely validates what we have been saying for more than a decade: These types of mining operations are destroying our streams and forests and nearby residents' health, and even driving entire communities to extinction."
Tom Zeller Jr. contributed reporting.
EPA Yanks Permit for West Virginia's Largest Mountaintop Removal Mine
Environmental News Service (ENS)
13 January 2011
WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today vetoed the largest single mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history - the proposed disposal of mining waste in streams at the Mingo-Logan Coal Company's Spruce No. 1 coal mine.
A Clean Water Act permit for this coal mine originally was issued in 2007 under the Bush-era EPA after a 10-year review but was then delayed in the courts.
West Virginia Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said the state will continue to fight the decision, but environmental and community groups who have fought for years to protect Appalachian streams from mountaintop removal mining breathed a collective sigh of relief.
EPA officials said the agency's final determination on the Spruce Mine comes after extensive scientific study, a major public hearing in West Virginia and review of more than 50,000 public comments, and after year-long discussions with the company failed to produce an agreement that would lead to a significant decrease in impacts to the environment and Appalachian communities.
"The proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend," said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Peter Silva.
Mingo Logan is a subsidiary of Arch Coal, Inc., the second largest U.S. coal producer. The EPA's action prevents the mine from disposing of the waste into streams unless the company identifies an alternative mining design that would avoid irreversible damage to water quality and meets the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
Despite EPA's willingness to consider alternatives, Silva said that Mingo Logan offered no new proposed mining configurations in response to EPA's Recommended Determination issued last March.
"Coal and coal mining are part of our nation's energy future and EPA has worked with companies to design mining operations that adequately protect our nation's waters," Silva said. "We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on clean water."
EPA has used this Clean Water Act authority in just 12 circumstances since 1972 and Silva said the agency reserves this authority for only unacceptable cases. None of the previous 12 permit vetoes involved projects that had already been permitted.
Acting Governor Tomblin said, "This news is devastating to the Southern Coal Fields and our entire state. The Spruce Number One permit was issued years ago after undergoing a comprehensive permitting process. It is hard to understand how the EPA at this late hour could take such a drastic action. We will continue with all efforts to get this decision reversed."
"I believe we can mine coal in an environmentally safe manner and I will continue to fight this decision," said the governor.
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the state's immediate past governor, said, "Today's EPA decision is not just fundamentally wrong, it is an unprecedented act by the federal government that will cost our state and our nation even more jobs during the worst recession in this country's history. While the EPA decision hurts West Virginia today, it has negative ramifications for every state in our nation."
Silva said EPA's decision to stop mining waste discharges to high quality streams at the Spruce No. 1 mine was based on several major environmental and water quality concerns.
The proposed mine project would have:
- Buried more than six miles of high-quality streams in Logan County, West Virginia with millions of tons of mining waste from the dynamiting of more than 2,20p0 acres of mountains and forestlands.
- Buried more than 35,000 feet of high-quality streams under mining waste, eliminating all wildlife.
- Polluted downstream waters as a result of burying these streams, leading to unhealthy levels of salinity and toxic levels of selenium that turn fresh water into salty water. The resulting waste that then fills valleys and streams can significantly compromise water quality, often causing permanent damage to ecosystems and streams.
- Caused downstream watershed degradation that will kill wildlife, impact birdlife, reduce habitat value, and increase susceptibility to toxic algal blooms.
- Inadequately mitigated for the mine's environmental impacts by not replacing streams being buried, and attempting to use stormwater ditches as compensation for natural stream losses.
Additionally, the agency said, during the permitting process there was a failure to consider cumulative watershed degradation resulting from past, present, and future mining in the area.
Finally, EPA's decision prohibits five proposed valley fills in two streams, Pigeonroost Branch, and Oldhouse Branch, and their tributaries.
Mining activities at the Spruce site are underway in Seng Camp Creek as a result of a prior agreement reached in the active litigation with the Mingo Logan Coal Company. EPA's Final Determination does not affect current mining in Seng Camp Creek.
Joe Lovett, director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, said, "It is a relief after all of these years that at least one agency has shown the will to follow the law and the science by stopping the destruction of Pigeonroost Hollow and Oldhouse Branch."
"Unfortunately, the Spruce Mine's impacts are not unique," Lovett said. "Although we are grateful for the EPA's action today, EPA must follow through by vetoing the scores of other Corps permits that violate the Clean Water Act and that would allow mountaintop mines to lay waste to our mountains and streams."
The nonprofit Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition said, "Spruce No. 1 is the only individual permit to have undergone a full Environmental Impact Statement. The science completely validates what we have been saying for more than a decade - these types of mining operations are destroying our streams and forests and nearby residents' health, and even driving entire communities to extinction. This type of steep slope coal mining is destroying our cultural heritage and our future."
Mountaintop removal mining operations use explosives to blast off the tops of mountains to reach the coal seams beneath. Millions of tons of waste rock, dirt, and vegetation are pushed into surrounding valleys, burying miles of streams.
EPA Sends Mixed Message with Reversal on West Virginia Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Permit
Between The Lines
19 January 2011
Interview with Vernon Haltom, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
On Jan. 13, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reversed a permit approved in 2007 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the largest mountaintop removal operation in West Virginia, Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 site straddling Logan and Mingo Counties in the coal-mining southern region of the state. The agency cited concerns about the potential impact on both the environment and human health.
Mountaintop removal entails using dynamite to literally blow off the tops of mountains to mine, the coal seams underneath, and then dumping tons of waste into valleys below, sometimes covering up headwater streams. Groups opposed to mountaintop removal celebrated this decision, but have opposed some EPA actions that have granted permits for other mining sites. Mountaintop Removal opponents are working for a complete ban on the process.
Coal interests and West Virginia's congressional delegation -- which now includes former Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, who won the late Sen. Robert Byrd's seat -- are calling for legislation that would rein in the EPA's power to curtail mountaintop removal. And Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, along with the coal industry, West Virginia legislators and labor unions, organized a rally on Jan. 20 to demonstrate support for coal mining in the state.
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Vernon Haltom, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch, about the mixed messages in the EPA's rationale for reversing its Arch Coal permit approval.
VERNON HALTAM: There were concerns about the cumulative impact on the streams, the water quality, the vast number of miles -- several miles -- of streams that would be buried, and human health impacts. We're glad they included that information. There's a report that Ken Ward posted today in the Charleston Gazette that would really give you a good look at how easily it could have gone the other way.
What the politicians aren't telling people while they're ranting and raving about the EPA is that there's a plan that probably would have met the EPA's approval. It still would have buried more than three miles of streams, but it would have cost the company about 55 cents more per ton of coal to do this other plan. So it's not the bright shining light from the sky that the EPA is suddenly going to start vetoing permits in mountaintop removal. It's just that Arch Coal didn't want to spend 55 cents per ton to go with the other plan.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Some opponents of mountaintop removal were more enthusiastic than you are about the EPA's decision on the Spruce #1 mining site. But you're saying it was a really close call and it's not precedent-setting?
VERNON HALTAM: Well, back in April 2010, the EPA announced the strict guidelines they were going to be using to scrutinize permits, and [EPA Administrator] Lisa Jackson stated at that time that no or very few valley fills would be permitted. The first permit that they applied this guidance to, they did approve. It was the Hobet 45 permit, and it was over three miles of streams that they approved to be buried. We don't see that as an improvement; going from three miles of unburied streams to three miles of buried streams is not an improvement. What happened in that case was that the EPA and the coal company arrived at an agreement based on re-engineered mining plans. And a similar re-engineered mining plan was put forth for the Spruce No. 1 mine. In this case -- that's the one we're talking about -- the coal company did not want to go that route and instead chose to basically throw the game, make it look like the EPA was completely unreasonable, cast them in a bad light, and give ammunition to the various politicians who are clamoring for the EPA to be gutted, essentially.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Vernon Haltom, I went on the Friends of Coal website and saw they're calling for Congress to rein in the EPA. Do you also expect coal interests to file a lawsuit against this decision?
VERNON HALTAM: I think they're probably going to attack it in a couple of ways, possibly in the courts and definitely legislators...legislators from West Virginia, what they amount to is coal industry lobbyists on U.S. taxpayers' payroll. They'll do what they can to try and strip the EPA of whatever powers they have, and in this case it would be stripping them of power to enforce the Clean Water Act. I mean, the Clean Water Act is a U.S. law that applies all over the country. And what they're trying to do is make it very difficult for the EPA to actually enforce, and it could have vast consequences everywhere.
BETWEEN THE LINES: So, what's the next step for those of you opposed to Mountaintop removal?
VERNON HALTAM: We've sent out the word to EPA that we support their decision in this case, and they should take stronger steps, deny all Mountaintop removal permits and abolish the practice. It kills people. We're not talking about salamanders, and minnows and mayflies. We're talking about actual people who breathe the dust clouds, who drink the water, who get flooded out of their homes and get killed in floods. All these things that kill people, and yet the industry wants to maintain that we don't exist.
There's a lawsuit against the EPA based on their April 2010 guidelines that Gov. Manchin filed that the National Mining Association has filed, and I believe the state of Kentucky has filed against the EPA. And Coal River Mountain Watch has intervened in that lawsuit on behalf of the EPA.
That's one thing we're doing, trying to stay in the legal loop and intervene when we can. But this rally on Thursday, we're also showing up to have a counter-rally. Acting Gov. Tomblin told people to come and show the EPA the impact of coal on the people of West Virginia. Well, what he meant was the people who draw a paycheck from coal. I don't think he was counting on those of us who suffer negative impacts to show up.
Contact the Coal River Mountain Watch by calling (304) 854-2182 or visit their website at CRMW.net