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

Written by Kate

Topics: Coal

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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…

9 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Sr. Gladys Marhefka says:

    Thanks very much.

  2. carole hagen says:


  3. Kate Potter says:

    This mountaintop removal is a serious move in the wrong direction.

  4. Kate Potter says:

    This permitting of mountaintop removal is a serious move in the wrong direction.

  5. Katherine Cooper says:

    My father was born in Western Maryland in 1902. I found he and his family in West Virginia in 1910. The area he grew up in was pristine. The local residents appeared to make living wages, and appeared to be well educated. I am proud of my heritage.
    I watched a BBC reporter conducting research in West Virginia and Virginia. I understand the fear of losing ones lively hood, the ability to provide food, clothing, and shelter for their family, but I fail to understand how one would not be concerned about the environment to which their children and grandchildren will be subjected. Surely these individuals I saw and heard in the report must be aware of the adverse environmental affects open pit mining has on everything from wildlife to the water they drink, the air they breath, and the status of their health and the health of their families. Somehow these individuals need to be educated about the need for clean energy and the fact that the new source of energy will produce new work. I am sure their fathers had to be taught how to work safely an efficiently for the companies that hired them to mine coal.
    To the citizens of West Virginia, I thank you for your hard work in providing energy for the country.
    West Virginia, land of my father, please know that the citizens of the United States of America, our government, and our President, will be there to assist you adjust to learning new skills and find new work for you and your descendants.

  6. Roberta Dees says:

    Can you give us contact info for the UMW? We could explain to them that we don’t hate them and we don’t want to take their jobs and ruin their lives.

    All of us who deplore mountaintop removal must also deplore the lack of jobs in the impacted areas, where long-term poverty exists. We must energize the search for replacement jobs. For example, we can throw our support to underground mining, this time demanding safety precautions for workers and lessened impact on the environment.

    We must help the local individuals and groups to apply for grants for “green” industries. Let’s spread the good news about the hard work of the Cold River Mountain citizens, developing the proposal to put a windfarm on top of their mountain. And let’s help them get it funded.

    State governments are eligible for federal Recovery and Reinvestment money, but they must ask for it. We need to take back from foreign countries the research and production of equipment for alternative energy. We should help provide resources for the Appalachian communities – Like the recent grant of $98 million to Clemson U. of South Carolina, for work with wind turbines.

    Simplest, and the easiest and quickest to get going, is the industry that reduces energy costs. Many thousands of people are needed for restoration and retrofitting:
    energy audits, of houses and businesses to find out how they can save electricity and money; and
    weatherizing and renovating existing structures – houses, businesses, and city, county and state office buildings.
    This industry has additional benefits, besides jobs. By reducing our need for coal, we can keep our mountains and improve our health by the decrease in air and water pollution.

    Can you help?

  7. Veronica G. Powers, M.D. says:

    Clearly mountain top removal is an environmental disaster.
    The energy produced is not worth the pollution and destruction that inevitably follows.
    It should not be allowed.

  8. Phil Taylor says:

    You treehuggers are pathetic. Most of you don’t live anywhere close to strip mines. Us real men like the work and appreciate the Coal Companies making usable property out of a useless mountaintop. It takes a sorry individual to choose a tree over another human being.

  9. that would deforest 3,000 hectares of land occupied by Indigenous peoples and negatively impact mangroves critical to the local fishing economy.

Trackbacks For This Post

  1. EPA’s New MTR Permit, New Year’s Shame « It’s Getting Hot In Here
  2. Obama Buries Bad News, Insults Us All » Rainforest Action Network Blog

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