Thursday, June 11, 2009

Feds have plan to end fast track for mountaintop-removal mines, but appeal ruling against fast track

The Obama administration will announce today an agreement among federal agencies that "proposes to end a fast-track approval process for new mining permits in Appalachia, requiring that they undergo a more detailed environmental review," The Washington Post reports. "It would also reassert federal oversight over state-level regulators, allowing checks of their work for evidence of lax scrutiny, and would try to close loopholes that allow waste rock to be dumped near streams."

Nevertheless, lawyers in the Justice Department yesterday "filed a notice that they plan to appeal the latest federal court ruling that — if not overturned — would require more stringent regulation of mountaintop-removal coal mining," reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. The March ruling "blocked the Corps [of Engineers] from approving new coal-industry valley fills through a streamlined Clean Water Act approval process. Coal industry lawyers have also indicated that they will appeal." (Read more) Ward asks on his Coal Tattoo blog, "Why does the administration one day file an appeal of a court ruling that blocked streamlined permit reviews, and then the next day announce it’s going to end those streamlined reviews?" (Read more)

Obama said in his campaign that he wants to end mountaintop removal. When White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley told David A. Fahrenthold of the Post that the practice "is allowed under current federal law ... and until that changes, we have to use the tools that we have," Fahrenthold asked her if she will ask Congress to ban it. "We're still early in that discussion," she replied.

Sutley said the agreement is designed to provide a clear administration policy on mountaintop removal. "But there's no guarantee of that," Fahrenthold writes. "As outlined yesterday, the administration's agreement is more like a promise than a policy, pledging better scrutiny of the mines but providing few specifics about how that would work in practice." (Read more)

The Post says in an editorial that Obama is on the right course, because he needs allies to pass a bill that would try to limit climate change. "Coal will remain an essential energy source for some time, while ending mountaintop removal mining would require action in Congress," the newspaper says. "There it would be opposed by coal-state members whose help Mr. Obama needs to get the more ambitious climate-change bill passed." (Read more)

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