EPA approves West Virginia MTR permit: major step backwards for Agency

posted by Rainforest Action Network

Having returned from a wonderful holiday in North Carolina with my family, the last thing I expected to be greeted to in DC was news that the Environmental Protection Agency had decided to give approval on the Hobet 45 mine permit in Lincoln County, West Virginia. I thought that my colleague Amanda Starbuck, Director of the Global Finance Campaign pinned the nail on the head when she said “This is a departure from what was a strong step forward from the EPA on MTR coal mining. Most people are trying to lose weight in the new year, but apparently, the Obama Administration’s new year’s resolution is to lose mountains.”

You will remember that in 2009 the EPA deemed 79 pending mountaintop removal permits as having the potential for significant environmental impact and were placed in an enhanced review process. Well today’s decision marks the first of these permits to be released in West Virginia. While the EPA claims that adequate changes have been made for the permit to move forward, it will still allow for more than three miles of intact streams to be destroyed as well as millions of cubic yards of hazardous fill to be placed in valley fills offsite.

Ken Ward has a great blog treatment of the announcement on Coal Tattoo.

Sadly, there is no environmentally safe way to demolish historic mountain ranges, so the question becomes- will the EPA continue to deny this simple fact and side with industry or finally take a strong stand to protect the people of Appalachia and their watersheds?

Residents sure hope it will be the later, “We, the affected citizens that are living with the impacts of this destructive mining practice, pray that this decision is not a preview of other destructive mining permits being approved,” said Judy Bonds, West Virginia resident and Director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “We certainly hope this is the last destructive permit approved that will allow the coal industry to continue to blast our homes and pollute our streams.”

In addition to the concerns Judy has for her home and health, she worries that the industry will view this as a positive outcome and feel justified in their use of fear and violence. “The very sad thing about this decision it is that the coal industry will think that their thugery and their threats contributed to this decision and may encourage them to be more violent in the future. Shame, Shame EPA.” 

Several communitity leaders have expressed similar concerns with the direction EPA is heading in light of this decision.

Yesterdays decision made Obama’s EPA look like they are choosing a “business as usual” approach to permitting in 2010, using Bush era laws that are inadequate at addressing the disastrous impacts of mountaintop removal under the Clean Water Act.  Where’s the “change we can believe in” in that approach?

Maybe I am just too cynical because I live in the beltway, but I know one thing, this decision has only given the movement against mountaintop removal more reason to kick into high gear this new year. Get ready…