Thursday, August 23, 2007

New rule aimed at removing legal barriers to mountaintop-removal strip mining for coal

Mountaintop removal — the practice of using explosives to blast away the tops of mountains to expose coal for strip mining — has been used controversially in Central Appalachia "under a cloud of legal and regulatory confusion" for decades, and now has found the support of the White House, reports The New York Times.

The Bush administration will approve a new regulation that will allow mountaintop removal to continue and expand, in an effort to encourage mining companies to increase output to meet increased demand, reports John M. Broder. The new rule, drafted by the Office of Surface Mining in the Interior Department, would require only “that mine operators minimize the debris and cause the least environmental harm, although those terms are not clearly defined and to some extent merely restate existing law,” Broder writes.

That “environmental harm” is at the forefront of the mountaintop-removal debate, since the mining generates tons of waste that must be deposited somewhere, usually in valleys and headwater streams near mines. The new rule limits the protection of these areas from dumping. “Environmental activists say the rule change will lead to accelerated pillage of vast tracts and the obliteration of hundreds of miles of streams in central Appalachia," Broder writes.

Broder's story is a good summary of a complex issue, but he slips on at least one point, saying that the environmental impact statement for the rule says that under it, "another 724 river miles will be buried by 2018." The streams that are buried don't come close to being rivers. (Read more)

Likewise, an otherwise good graphic with the story says, "Coal companies are supposed to reclaim land, but native trees have trouble growing on disturbed topsoil." That implies that only restoration of forest would accomplish reclamation. The law requires only "vegetative cover," and that typically is grass -- although recent research has found that with less soil compaction, trees can be more easily grown on mined land.


Anonymous said...

The "trees growing on loosely compacted MTR sites" is a ruse, as you know. Except for the valley fills, most MTR sites are pretty much solid rock. How do you loosely compact solid rock? Ask them in P'burg where they spent $25 million in tax money to haul in sod for StoneCrest golf course. Hit the ball in the rough and you're on a mountaintop desert. Because they failed to spread a layer of sand beneath the sod -- to give the grass roots something to grab hold of -- the sod and the topsoil continue to slide off the mountain every year. One day, given enough rain, the whole course is going to slide off the hilltop, like icing off a cold birthday cake.

Al Cross said...

Here's what I know: Recent research by the Forestry Department at the University Kentucky has shown just what the item said. A search for Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative will give details; here's one link:

Al Cross said...

In case the above link does not work, try this one:

Al Cross said...

Trying again. Here's the part of the link after the question mark: