Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mountain-Top Removal Mining In The Spotlight

The following article brings many subjects light. These include mining, coal, energy, jobs, the economy, the environment, and politics. These are complex, and for many, passionate issues. If Americans want to maintain their standard of living, and recover from this current economic "recession", there are hard choices to be made.

Al Gore and James Hansen, the leading global warming alarmists, want to ban all coal mining and the use of coal to generate electricity. The big question is, how are we going to generate all the electricity we depend on? There is talk of plug-in electric cars, where is that additional electricity going to come from? Solar and wind power can not begin to fill the need. It takes ten years to build a nuclear power plant. What are the answers? Our government can not keep printing money forever. At some point people need to begin producing things (again).

EPA Puts Mountaintop Mining Projects On Hold
by The Associated Press (source)

“It just absolutely puzzles me as to why the same federal government that's trying to straighten the economy out wants to dismantle the economy of another state, particularly as it relates to the workers at these sites.” West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney

“If the EPA didn't step in and do something now, all those permits would go forward. There are permits that will bury 200 miles of streams pending before the [Army] Corps [of Engineers].”Joe Lovett, executive director for the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, March 24, 2009 · In a move that took the coal industry by surprise, the Environmental Protection Agency put hundreds of mountaintop coal-mining permits on hold Tuesday to evaluate the projects' impact on streams and wetlands.

The decision by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson targets a controversial practice that allows coal mining companies to dump waste from mountaintop mining into streams and wetlands.
Between 150 and 200 applications for new or expanded surface coal mines, many mountaintop removal operations, are pending before the federal government. EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy said the agency does not expect problems with the overwhelming majority of permits.
The permits are issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency that has been criticized by environmental groups and has been sued for failing to thoroughly evaluate the environmental impact of mountaintop removal.

Under the Clean Water Act, companies cannot discharge rock, dirt and other debris into streams unless they can show that it will not cause permanent damage to waterways or the fish and other wildlife that live in them.

Last month, a three-judge appeals panel in Richmond, Va., overturned a lower court's ruling that would have required the corps to conduct more extensive reviews. The appeals court decision cleared the way for a backlog of permits that had been delayed until the lawsuit was resolved.
The EPA's action on Tuesday could leave those permit requests in limbo a little longer.
The EPA said in a statement that it would be actively involved in the review of the long list of permits awaiting approval by the corps, a signal that the agency under the Obama administration will exercise its oversight.

The EPA has the authority to review and veto any permit issued by the corps under the Clean Water Act, but under the Bush administration it did that rarely.
"If the EPA didn't step in and do something now, all those permits would go forward," said Joe Lovett, executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment. "There are permits that will bury 200 miles of streams pending before the corps."
The EPA action stunned the coal industry, which had been breathing easily since the mid-February ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"It's almost like the EPA's trying to skirt the 4th Circuit appeals decision and do whatever they want to do," Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor said. "We would lose half our production in east Kentucky."
Carol Raulston, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, said further delays in the permits would cost the region high-paying jobs.
"This is very troubling, not only for jobs in the region, but production of coal generally," said Raulston.

Mountaintop mines in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee produce nearly 130 million tons of coal annually — about 14 percent of the nation's power-producing coal — which in turn generates electricity for 24.7 million U.S. customers, according to industry estimates.
The low-sulfur, high-energy coal produced from those mines is not easily replaced. The industry has long maintained that eliminating mountaintop mining will lead to increased imports from countries that have far fewer environmental safeguards.

The practice has a huge economic impact in Appalachia.
Mountaintop mines employ some 14,000 people across the four states. Wages average about $62,000 — high pay for rural Appalachia — and states make millions in taxes.

"It just absolutely puzzles me as to why the same federal government that's trying to straighten the economy out wants to dismantle the economy of another state, particularly as it relates to the workers at these sites," said West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney. West Virginia is the nation's second-largest coal producing state behind Wyoming.

In a separate action, the EPA recommended denying permits the Army Corps of Engineers was planning to issue that would allow two companies to fill thousands of feet of streams with mining waste in West Virginia and Kentucky. The Corps of Engineers said Tuesday that it was weeks away from issuing both permits.

But in letters sent Monday to the corps' office in Huntington, W.Va., the EPA said that Central Appalachia Mining, a subsidiary of Lexington, Ky.-based Rhino Resources, and Highland Mining Co., a subsidiary of Richmond-based Massey Energy Co., have not done enough to avoid and minimize damage to water quality and stream channels.

In the case of the Highland Mining's plans, which would fill in approximately 13,174 feet of stream in Logan County, W.Va., the agency said it believes the project "will result in substantial and unacceptable impacts to aquatic resources of national importance."
Neither Massey Energy Co. nor Rhino Resources immediately responded to requests for comment.


Unknown said...

The fact that the Environmental Posturing Agency has finally grown a spine is interesting. For years they simply knelt and paid obeisances to the mighty coal companies instead of enforcing the very laws they were supposed to uphold. Finally it seems that the EPA is looking at possibly doing what it is charged with, protecting the air and water for the people who pay the salaries of the EPA individuals, the American tax payer.

This does not even take into account the fact that blowing up mountains is a very destructive act. West Virginia, and most of Appalachia, is beautiful. The mountains and steams are a great part of that inherent beauty. People enjoy coming here to see the scenic vistas, the panoramic views from the mountain tops. By blowing up the mountains and filling in the streams, you take away a lot of the incentive for tourists to come here. And you turn a breathtaking countryside into a toxic waste dump. Plus, Massey Coal and other companies that engage in mountain top removal are terrorizing the local citizens who live below and near the mountains.

It will be a revelation if the EPA actually enforces the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Because the people of Appalachia will be here long after the criminal enterprises like Massey Coal have raped the land and moved on.

As to wind and solar power, if we put the resources into these projects, we could be making great strides toward a future of clean and sustainable energy.

America also consumes vast amounts of energy for little or no reason. We can all turn down our thermostats, turn of lights when they aren't being used and use newer, more energy efficient light bulbs, use mass transportation more frequently, unplug appliances when they are not in use, etc.

In short we can all make changes that will lead to a more sustainable and healthy future for future generations.

Peter said...

Mining is messy business. There is no doubt about that. Where is the energy going to come from if we don't use coal? That is the real question.

Look at the numbers. Minor little attempts at energy conservation are a drop in the bucket, misleading and mostly activities that do little more than make people feel good.

Solar and wind power can not begin to provide the electricity we need. They are also disruptive of the environment. We need real answers, not just more idealistic rhetoric.