Thursday, June 11, 2009

Administration Officials Discuss Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Jun 11: Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Bob Sussman, U.S. EPA Senior Policy Counsel to the Administrator; Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes; and Terrence “Rock” Salt, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works; held a conference call with reporters on mountaintop removal coal mining. The officials announced that they are taking "unprecedented steps" to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop coal mining in the six Appalachian states of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia through a coordinated approach between U.S. EPA, Department of the Interior (DOI) and Army Corps of Engineers.

Through a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the agency officials, the Administration will implement an Interagency Action Plan on mountaintop coal mining that will: - Minimize the adverse environmental consequences of mountaintop coal mining through short-term actions to be completed in 2009; - Undertake longer-term actions to tighten the regulation of mountaintop coal mining; - Ensure coordinated and stringent environmental reviews of permit applications under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1997(SMCRA); - Engage the public through outreach events in the Appalachian region to help inform the development of Federal policy; and - Federal Agencies will work in coordination with appropriate regional, state, and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the health and welfare of Appalachian communities.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “Mountaintop coal mining cannot be predicated on the assumption of minimal oversight of its environmental impacts, and its permanent degradation of water quality. Stronger reviews and protections will safeguard the health of local waters, and thousands of acres of watersheds in Appalachia. Our announcement today reaffirms EPA's fundamental responsibility for protecting the water quality and environmental integrity of streams, rivers, and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. Getting this right is important to coalfield communities that count on a livable environment, both during mining and after coal companies move to other sites.”

Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, “The steps we are taking today are a firm departure from the previous Administration's approach to mountaintop coal mining, which failed to protect our communities, water, and wildlife in Appalachia. By toughening enforcement standards, by looking for common-sense improvements to our rules and regulations, and by coordinating our efforts with other agencies, we will immediately make progress toward reducing the environmental impacts ofmountaintop coal mining.”

Some of the immediate steps to be taken include: Requiring more stringent environmental reviews for future permit applications for mountaintop coal mining; proposing to modify Nationwide Permit (NWP) 21 to preclude its use to authorize the discharge of fill material into streams for surface coal mining activities in the Appalachian region; Strengthening permit reviews under CWA; Strengthening EPA coordination with states; and Improving stream mitigation projects.

According to a release, if the U.S. District Court vacates the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule, as requested by the Secretary of the Interior on April 27, 2009 [See WIMS 4/29/09], Interior will issue guidance clarifying the application of stream buffer zone provisions in a preexisting 1983 SMCRA regulation to ensure mining activities will occur in a more environmentally protective way in or near Appalachian streams.

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers said they are taking steps to enhance coordination in the environmental review of pending Clean Water Act permits for surface coal mining activities in Appalachian States. The Federal agencies said they will also work in coordination with appropriate regional, state, and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the health and welfare of Appalachian communities.

Access a release with additional details (
click here). Access more information on the Memorandum of Agreement (click here).

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