Appalachia’s Spotted Owl: Will a Tiny Fly Stop Mountaintop Removal Mining?

Written by Nell Greenberg

Topics: Coal

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Could it be that a tiny fly is the secret to saving Appalachia’s mountains and drinking water from the destructive mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR) practice?

According to Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners LLC, in a Bloomberg piece this morning: “The future of mountaintop mining looks bleak.”

For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in yet another step to do the right thing to protect the environment from MTR have told mining companies that they must safeguard the mayfly, one of the oldest winged insects.

“Applicants for new mines will have to show they wouldn’t cause pollution deadly to the aquatic bug. That puts at risk about $3 billion a year in coal that operators led by Massey and International Coal Group Inc. extract in Appalachia…
Without new permits, Massey Energy will rely more on conventional tunneling, CEO Don Blankenship said on an Oct. 28 conference call with analysts. The impact of permit restrictions may be felt beginning in 2011.

“We always worry about what EPA and others will do,” he said.

More than 1,200 miles (1,930 kilometers) of creeks and streams have been buried by mining debris in Appalachia from surface-mining techniques, including mountaintop removal, the EPA said in 2005.

Mining’s threat to mayflies, which hatch in streams and grow to a quarter-inch to more than an inch (2.5 centimeters) long, has been documented since the late 1990s. This year, the EPA under President Barack Obama for the first time held up new permits on the grounds of inadequate safeguards for the insect.”

While I had hoped that the contamination of precious drinking water, the demolition of historic mountains and the threat to community health from MTR would be enough cause to abolish the practice, at this point we are running against the dynamite fuse and every step counts. As RAN’s Dana Clarke put it: “The mayfly is a key indicator species and an entire order of them is disappearing, which from a biological/extinction point of view, is a very big deal in terms of what that says about the impacts on the ecosystem.” Let’s hope that in this case the mayfly is also an indicator that we will soon see MTR become extinct.

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