EPA (re)buries mountaintop removal coal mine

The EPA has for the first time retroactively vetoed a Clean Water Act permit for mountaintop removal coal mining.

A mountaintop removal site.

The Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken an unprecedented step against mountaintop removal coal mining by retroactively rescinding a Clean Water Air permit.

In doing so, the administration has halted Arch Coal’s major mining operations at Spruce Mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The EPA has published a comprehensive ruling explaining its position.

Mountaintop removal mining is a surface mining technique that involves moving all soil that lies atop a desired coal seam. Proponents consider it to be a more economical than underground mining, and note that it requires fewer workers and provides for safer working conditions.

However, the impact of mountaintop removal mining on the environment and nearby communities has made the practice controversial for many years. Critics contend that it contaminates air, drinking water, and irreversibly harms ecosystems.

The Obama administration outlined its desire to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachian states in 2009, and has coordinated work among multiple federal agencies in its efforts.

The EPA ruled indicated that the agency tried to reach an accommodation with Arch Coal to markedly decrease the mine’s environmental impact on Appalachian communities.

“The action prevents the mine from disposing the waste into streams unless the company identifies an alternative mining design that would avoid irreversible damage to water quality and meets the requirements of the law. Despite EPA's willingness to consider alternatives, Mingo Logan did not offer any new proposed mining configurations in response to EPA's Recommended Determination,” reads the ruling.

Last January, the journal Science published a peer-reviewed study conducted by members of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that the effects of the practice are "pervasive and irreversible." The study strongly criticized existing environmental regulations as inadequate.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com