The Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that one mountaintop removal coal mining operation in West Virginia will soon be able to proceed, and another now has a "path forward" to approval. This comes only a few months after a promising hold was placed on 79 mountaintop removal projects to further evaluate effects on water quality and the communities around the mountains in question.
I suppose the optimism at that September decision by the EPA might have been premature, but now my main reaction is confusion. Where exactly do the Obama administration and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson stand on this most egregious of environmental crimes? It's hard to tell.
The Hobet mine, owned by Patriot Coal Corp., will receive approval under the Clean Water Act, meaning it only needs federal approval to begin blowing the top off a mountain. Apparently a deal was worked out between the EPA and the mining company that will reduce the miles of stream buried under debris from six to three. Oh, well that's fine then.
Obama has spoken strongly about the practice in the past. Way back in 2007 he said "We're tearing up the Appalachian Mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuels," and in June of 2009 Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said that "The Obama administration has serious concerns about the impacts of mountaintop removal mining on our natural resources and on the health and welfare of the Appalachian communities." September's action seemed to back up these attitudes, but yesterday's decision appears to set the precedent that as long as mining companies make minor conciliatory gestures then all will go back to the apocalyptic norm.
We'll see where this heads in the coming months with regard to the other mountaintop removal projects currently under consideration. For now, though, if you have a few minutes, watch this video by ilovemountains.org (featuring Woody Harrelson!) about the devastation wrought by the barbaric practice of blowing the tops off of mountains.