Scientists Agree Mountaintop Removal Mining is Destroying Appalachia

Obama administration should take note and follow science on pending permits


Jared Saylor, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500, x213

Mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia destroys streams and headwaters, causes severe water pollution and flooding, and has the potential for serious human health impacts, according to an article being published tomorrow in Science, one of the world’s preeminent peer-reviewed scientific journals. Leading scientists agree that current attempts to regulate pollution runoff from mountaintop removal sites are “clearly inadequate,” and that stronger, more rigorous federal regulations are immediately needed to protect water quality in mining regions. The scientists conclude that new mountaintop removal mining permits should not be granted until peer-reviewed, scientific evidence shows that it is possible to remedy the stream destruction and public health threat. Read more here.

“We hope the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House have subscriptions to Science,” said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice. “They need to see this article and act on the scientific consensus that mountaintop removal mining destroys streams and harms people. It reinforces the need for strong federal regulations that follow science and protect against the pollution brought by mountaintop removal mining.”

“This groundbreaking new report in one of the world’s preeminent scientific journals makes it clear — mountaintop removal not only threatens human health and causes severe, sometimes irreversible environmental damage, but current regulations are also not adequate to protect Appalachia’s land and people,” said Ed Hopkins, environmental quality program director at the Sierra Club. “If the Obama administration is serious about science driving policy, then this report should be the nail in the coffin that prompts the administration to issue new Clean Water Act regulations that prohibit the dumping of mining waste into streams.”

Earthjustice and Sierra Club, along with dozens of other regional and national community, environmental and public health organizations, have been fighting in the courts and in Congress to challenge illegal mining permits, strengthen environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and enact federal regulations that follow science and the law.

Earthjustice and co-counsel from Public Justice and the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, on behalf of three West Virginia groups, are seeking review in the U.S. Supreme Court of a federal lawsuit reversed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that challenged mountaintop removal permits that violated the Clean Water Act. In addition to participating in numerous lawsuits across Appalachia challenging the legality of permits for mountaintop removal operations, these groups and Sierra Club have also petitioned state and federal agencies for stronger rules and for increased oversight and enforcement.

Despite scientific evidence of the harms caused by mountaintop removal mining, the EPA continues to approve new mountaintop removal mining permits. Just this week, the agency announced it was planning to allow mining to proceed at the so-called Hobet 45 mine, part of one of the biggest mining sites in West Virginia.

“The Obama administration has started off the year on the wrong foot. Approving one of the biggest mines in West Virginia is not the way to follow through on its resolution to follow the dictates of science and comply with the law,” Mulhern said.

Last year, the Obama administration put a hold on 79 pending mountaintop removal mining permits, citing concerns over the environmental harm caused by this mining and vowing additional scientific scrutiny. The Hobet 45 mine was included in this list of permits held by the EPA.

“To prevent further irreparable damage, the EPA must change Clean Water Act rules to stop allowing companies to fill streams with mining waste,” Hopkins said.

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