Mountaintop Removal Permits Headed for Further Review

EPA plans more scientific and legal scrutiny on 79 new mining permits

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The last year has been a roller coaster ride for mountaintop removal. Despite a loss in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in February (which we’re now appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court), the U.S. Senate was taking up the fight with some public hearings back in March. In April, we thought the EPA was going to put the brakes on some mountaintop removal mining permits, but then in May, it was a sad day for Appalachia when the EPA approved more mining permits.

Well today, we’ve got some reason to cheer. The EPA announced today plans to hold 79 pending mountaintop removal mining permits for further environmental review, offering a reprieve for the coalfield residents in Appalachia living near these sites. The news comes as part of a "Memorandum of Understanding" the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers signed earlier this year. The two agencies agreed to work together to review pending permits, and today’s announcement sets the EPA and the Corps on a path towards closer scrutiny of these permits that is based on science and the law.

Our own Joan Mulhern had this to say:

For this stage in the permitting review process, EPA is doing the right thing, and we commend Administrator Jackson for her leadership. These mines, if permitted, would destroy many miles of streams in a region already devastated by mountaintop removal. We are confident that if EPA and the Corps do the ‘enhanced’ review as promised, they will determine that all of the mines with valley fills will cause unacceptable harm and violate the law. The next step should not only be to conduct the review and deny permits for mines that destroy waters, but the administration must also reinstate the clean water rules that prevented industries from dumping their waste into streams.

Today’s announcement, while long overdue, shows that this administration is serious about science and the law, and we are certainly pleased. The clock is now ticking, and the Corps has 14 days to respond to the EPA’s decision. Then, according to an EPA press release, "issues of concern regarding particular permit applications will be addressed during a 60-day review process triggered when the Corps informs EPA that a particular permit is ready for discussion."

We’re going to stay involved and keep a close watch on these permits. The destruction in Appalachia is far too great to ignore. Already mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia has permanently buried at least 2,000 miles of streams under piles of toxic waste and debris. Entire communities have been displaced, and an area the size of Delaware has been flattened.

Jared was the head coach of Earthjustice's advocacy campaign team from 2004 to 2014.