EPA Takes on Mountaintop Removal Mining

A front page story in yesterday's New York Times is one in a series on water quality throughout the United States. This one focuses on Appalachian state residents who have fallen victim to the toxic residues of mountaintop removal coal mining. A large photograph above the story shows a close-up of a seven-year-old's mouth, full of fillings and cavities caused by a short lifetime of brushing with poisonous water that comes out of the tap in his own home.Videos and charts showing water quality violations in each of the 50 states accompany the article, and although some states are in greater violation than others, not a single one has a clean record in compliance with the Clean Water Act.

While change in federal policy cannot happen overnight, Friday's news brought some hope. The Environmental Protection Agency has suspended 79 permit applications for new mountaintop removal coal mines, spanning four Appalachian states. The Obama administration put the permits on hold, acknowledging (for the first time after eight-years of Bush) that the practice of mountaintop removal sullies water with dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, and is in direct violation of the Clean Water Act. The EPA submitted the permits to the Army Corps of Engineers for review, making both an environmental and political statement that the Obama administration will not follow in the footsteps of the Bush administration, which never once challenged the coal industry.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson diplomatically clarified the new administration intends to comply with the Clean Water Act while preserving the interests of the energy industry. "We look forward to working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers, with the involvement of the mining companies, to achieve a resolution of EPA's concerns that avoids harmful environmental impacts and meets our energy and economic needs," she said.

The EPA's initial reviews looked at available information about the project in question, the current environmental condition of the watershed, and the environmental impact expected to result from the proposed mine. While this review is years late for families already experiencing deleterious health effects of mountaintop mining, it is better late than never. A post on Grist provides a link where you can encourage the Obama administration to follow through.