MAC: Mines and Communities

As the Bush regime groans under what may be its biggest internal "scandal" yet, two infamo

Published by MAC on 2005-10-28

As the Bush regime groans under what may be its biggest internal "scandal" yet, two infamous measures get endorsed with hardly any publicity. Right wing Senator Pombo's proposal to open up huge areas of public lands at a peppercorn rent is passed through the House of Representative's Resources Committee. And the oxymoronic Environmental Protection Agency gives a thumbs up to mountaintop removal, as a pretended way of safeguarding streams in Appalachia. Killing for peace was never this easy!

Bush Administration EIS Approves Mountaintop Mining

Environmental News Service (ENS)

October 28, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC - Today federal and state agencies released the final version of a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on mountaintop removal coal mining. The final report endorses the coal mining method that cuts off the tops of mountains to get at coal seams, then dumps the mountaintops into valley streams below.

The practice has already obliterated thousands of square miles of mountains and streams and rivers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the EIS "can lead to enhanced protection" for Appalachian streams and other environmental resources in about 12 million acres that includes most of eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, western Virginia and scattered areas of east Tennessee. Unlike a project EIS, a programmatic EIS is not a blueprint for actions on a site-specific basis. This programmatic EIS clarifies lines of responsibility among the agencies responsible for administering the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). The agencies included in today's action are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Office of Surface Mining and West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

The agencies say the preferred alternative in the programmatic EIS contains actions that "could enhance protection for human health and the environment" by assessing aquatic ecosystem restoration and mitigation methods for mined lands and under taking demonstration projects and evaluating the effects of mountaintop mining on stream chemistry and biology. s The EIS says the federal agencies should work with states to "refine the science-based protocols for assessing the ecological functions and making permit decisions and establishing mitigation requirements." Interested stakeholders would be encouraged "to develop a best management practices manual for restoration or replacement of aquatic resources."

Consistent definitions of stream characteristics and field methods for delineating those characteristics are needed, the agencies say, as are mitigation and compensation monitoring plans incorporated into permit inspection schedules. The agencies should establish financial responsibility on the part of the mining companies to ensure that reclamation and compensatory mitigation projects are completed successfully, the agencies said.

Earthjustice Senior Legislative Counsel Joan Mulhern, said, "This EIS utterly fails to respond to the tens of thousands of public comments submitted by citizens of Appalachia and around the country who asked the Bush administration to rein in the worse abuses of mountaintop removal coal mining." "The EIS's studies demonstrate that the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining has caused widespread and irreversible damage in Appalachia and that, unless new limits are imposed, by the end of this decade the region destroyed will be over 2,200 square miles in size - an area larger than the state of Delaware."

"Yet the administration's preferred alternative is, essentially, to do nothing about this other than making it even easier for the coal companies to continue this abominable practice," she said.

"This EIS is the bureaucratic equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The Bush administration is well aware of the harm being done to the people and the region of Appalachia, but nothing they propose will do anything except make the ship sink faster."

"The residents of Appalachia deserve better. Their historic and cultural ties to their land are rapidly withering away with each explosion and as each valley is filled." While this destruction continues, the Army Corps just keeps churning out permits for more mines, says Mulhern. "They recently permitted - illegally - a huge new mine next to Blair Mountain, the site of a historic battle in the 1920s between coal executives and miners who were seeking unionized wages and safer working conditions. This mine alone would destroy over three miles of streams and desecrate this historic site," she said.

Earthjustice, the Appalachian Center for the Environment and the Economy and Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, in representing the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Coal River Mountain Watch, have challenged this permit in federal on the grounds that valley fills from this mine violate the Clean Water Act and that the Corps' permitting action also violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

The final programmatic EIS is online at:

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