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Mountaintop removal in Martin County, Kentucky

And here I said all those nice things about Lisa Jackson, the new head of the EPA, just last Monday. I quoted this passage from Jim Hightower’s newsletter:

The new crew at EPA is taking regulatory and scientific steps to stop [Bush’s “horrific policy of mountaintop removal”]. First, they’ve placed 79 mountaintop removal permits that the previous EPA honchos tried to shove through on hold, pending environmental review. Second, they’ve launched a major scientific study of whether the explosion of mountaintops and subsequent shoving of the rubble down into the valleys below destroys streams, thus violating the Clean Water Act.

No outright ban is coming, though. That’s for sure. Miners as well as coal company owners oppose it, and two St. Louis area coal companies have gotten more out of the EPA than is good for the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency will back Patriot Coal Corp.’s efforts to expand a large mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia after the company agreed to concessions to help protect water quality and the environment.


As originally proposed, the Hobet 45 expansion would have buried almost six miles of streams and contaminated downstream waters, including those used for fishing and swimming, the EPA said. But Patriot agreed to redesign the mine to lessen the stream impacts by 50 percent, direct more drainage away from surface waters and protect public health, the agency said.

Another St. Louis company, Arch Coal, has cause to celebrate.

Separately, the EPA said the U.S. District Court for Southern West Virginia extended a deadline to negotiate with Creve Coeur-based Arch Coal Inc. regarding its effort to develop the Spruce No. 1 mine in West Virginia. The mine would be the largest mountaintop removal operation in the state’s history.

In October, the EPA announced plans to veto the Spruce No. 1 permit issued by the Corps of Engineers, saying it raised “significant environmental and water quality concerns.”

Now I’m no EPA scientist. What do I know about mining and its environmental effects? Next to nothing. Here’s what I do know:

  • Bobby Kennedy, Jr., says the coal companies never pay for the damage they do.

    Kennedy says industry touts coal as cheap and clean, but it’s neither.

    Though it costs 9 cents per kilowatt hour, he says Americans pay the price with polluted air and waterways that can lead to health and developmental problems.

  • Environmental groups hate this half-assed reform:

    “There is no excuse for approving this permit when the science is clear that mountaintop removal coal mining permanently destroys streams,” said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for the environmental group Earthjustice.

Oh sure, wringing these regulatory concessions out of coal companies is an improvement over the Bush policies, but I remember Thoreau’s comment:

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.

And John Prine’s song:

“Daddy, won’t you take me down to Muhlenberg County,

Down by the Green River where paradise lay?”

“Well, I’m sorry, my son, but you’re too late in askin’,

Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”

photo courtesy of Wikimedia