Thursday, April 01, 2010

EPA says few or no valley fills of mountaintop mines will be able to meet standard issued today

The Environmental Protection Agency took unprecedented steps today to reduce the environmental damage from mountaintop-removal coal mining by making it much harder to put the blasted rock and dirt into valley fills that bury and pollute watercourses.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said there are "no or very few valley fills that are going to be able to meet this standard," but "The people of Appalachia shouldn't have to choose between a clean, healthy environment in which to raise their families and the jobs they need to support them. This is not about ending coal mining, it is about ending coal mining pollution." She noted that EPA recently negotiated changes in the permit for the huge Hobet Mine in West Virginia, which she said will not have valley fills.

EPA is basing its rule on the electrical conductivity of streams, increased by the release of salts and other dissolved solids from mines. Agency scientists determined that streams with more than 500 microsiemens per centimeter, a measure of salinity, are impaired. That is about five times normal levels.

A Kentucky environmental official "said the EPA's action raises serious questions about the future of mining in Eastern Kentucky," The Courier-Journal reports. (Read more) "Industry groups blasted the new regulations, calling them job-killers that would further depress one of the country's poorest regions," Patrick Reis reports for Environment & Energy Daily (subscription only).

UPDATE, April 2: The leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for senator from Kentucky, who have clashed over coal issues in the past, issued statements that were not all that different. Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo issued a press release calling EPA's move a selective "declaration of war on Kentucky's coal industry," adding, "If this ruling were applied to other industries like farming, road construction, commercial development and housing, it would shut down our economy. This anti-coal decision by the EPA Administrator does not reflect what is necessary to protect the health of Kentuckians, but her own deep seated bias against the coal industry." Asked for his view, Attorney General Jack Conway said in an e-mail, “We need to mine coal responsibly and that the EPA should not legislate. That is the role of Congress and yesterday’s announcement demonstrates that Washington does not understand the importance of coal to Kentucky’s economy. . . . I will not support any measure that will cost Kentucky jobs and make it more difficult to keep electricity rates low for our working families, including cap and trade legislation.”

UPDATE, April 5: In one of the two studies EPA included in its announcement, the agency focused on "direct damage to streams that are buried and on pollution downstream from valley fills," Ken Ward Jr. reports for The Charleston Gazette, but the the report also "warns that damage to ecologically important forests is greater than some routinely cited statistics suggest." Previous EPA studies have projected that 1,200 miles of streams would be lost to valley fills and associated mining activities from 1992 to 2002, Ward writes, but the new report explains those numbers don't account for loss of other headwater ecosystems. (Read more)

The Lexington Herald-Leader also concluded in a Sunday editorial that "Kentuckians who care about the future should thank EPA" for its new guidelines. Heartland Institute fellow Ross Kaminsky disagrees, writing the new guidelines are "the inevitable outcome when government puts environmental radicals in charge of writing regulations."


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