Friday, September 11, 2009

EPA says all 79 mountaintop-removal permit applications with Army Corps need further review

The Environmental Protection Agency is objecting to all 79 pending permit applications for mountaintop-removal mines in Appalachia, signaling that the agency plans to block dozens of mining plans, Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette reports. The list, originally due last Tuesday, is part of the Obama administration's plan to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal. (Read more)

The list includes 49 permits in Kentucky, 23 in West Virginia, six in Ohio and one in Tennessee. It is accompanied by a question-and-answer sheet about the process. EPA will spend the next 15 days further evaluating the permits before submitting a final list to the Corps. Individual permit applications will be discussed during a 60-day window triggered when the Corps informs the EPA that a particular permit is ready for discussion. (Photo by Michael Williamson, The Washington Post)

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear wrote EPA today "urging swift action," according to a press release from his office. “The issue is not whether the decision on any particular permit application is positive or negative,” Beshear wrote. “My concern is the unacceptable delay in making any decision at all, thereby preventing businesses from effective planning and management.” For the release, click here; for the letter, here.

In a follow-up analysis on his Coal Tattoo blog, Ward writes, "EPA withstood what had to be incredible political pressure from the mining industry and its friends in Congress to drop this whole thing." Noting the lack of comment from West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd and Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, both pro-coal Democrats, and the United Mine Workers of America, Ward says it's likely that "how strongly Byrd, Rahall and the UMWA respond later in this process depends in large part on what EPA ends up doing with permits that Patriot Coal desperately wants to continue mining with the dragline at its unionized Hobet 21 complex along the Boone-Lincoln County line."

Ward also observes, "Maybe a few West Virginia political leaders are starting to realize that there’s no immediate danger that President Barack Obama is going to wake up one day soon and shut down all surface mining in Appalachia. Maybe they’re starting to see what’s going on as some sort of process. EPA has said it isn’t outlawing mountaintop removal, but is worried about the rising damage from this sort of mining and wants to take strong steps to reduce that damage." (Read more)

Jiff Biggers writes for The Nation, "For many in Appalachia, the announcement is a watershed of sorts, a strong signal that the Obama administration intends to consider scientific data in its decision-making rather than simply to succumb to century-old pressure by the Big Coal lobby and entrenched coalfield politicians." (Read more)

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