By Frank James
Life just got a little harder for coal-mining officials wanting to get at coal by blasting the tops off mountains in Appalachia.
The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it identified 79 applications for projects in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee to which it will give more scrutiny. That means it's effectively stopping those projects from moving forward until further notice.
According to an EPA press release:
"The administration pledged earlier this year to improve review of mining projects that risked harming water quality. Release of this preliminary list is the first step in a process to assure that the environmental concerns raised by the 79 permit applications are addressed and that permits issued are protective of water quality and affected ecosystems," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "We look forward to working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers, with the involvement of the mining companies, to achieve a resolution of EPA's concerns that avoids harmful environmental impacts and meets our energy and economic needs..."
...The 79 pending permit applications on which EPA focused are for proposed surface coal mining operations in 4 Appalachian states. EPA's initial review concluded that all of the projects would likely cause water quality impacts requiring additional review under the Clean Water Act. The initial reviews were conducted in light of available project-specific information, the existing environmental condition of the watershed in which the project is proposed to be located, and the nature of environmental impacts predicted to result from construction and operation of the proposed mine.
The EPA's decision is another attempt by the Obama Administration to reverse some of its predecessor's more controversial decisions.
The Bush Administration angered environmentalists as well as activists in Appalachia for easing rules on the technique called mountain-top removal which is like a more extreme version of strip mining.
Mountain top removal often results in a great deal of debris and contaminants flowing into nearby rivers and streams while the associated clear-cutting of trees leads to flooding, destroying the quality of life in nearby communities.
Of course, there's an upside to mountain top removal for the coal companies. It's easier for them to get to the coal seams and they can use few workers, all of which reduces their costs.