For the first time in almost 40 years, the EPA has announced that it will not grant a permit to a new mountaintop removal coal mining project.
Or, more accurately speaking, the EPA has issued a “proposed determination” to block the Clean Water Act permit for Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 coal mine, which would have become the largest mountaintop removal coal mining site in Central Appalachia.
According to the agency’s announcement, “EPA has reason to believe that the Spruce No. 1 Mine, as currently authorized, could result in unacceptable adverse effects to fish and wildlife resources.” (Studies have shown that MTR does result in these adverse effects.) A much longer process of review and debate must now take place before the EPA could officially veto the permit.
This is a clear victory for opponents of MTR, the most environmentally destructive form of coal mining in existence (Mountain Justice has a great page that lays out the steps and grotesque impacts of MTR coal mining). But the fight is far from over.
Stopping MTR coal mining has become a hot button issue of late. On March 18th, several activists with Rainforest Action Network hung a banner reading “EPA: pledge to end mountaintop removal in 2010” outside of the agency’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Six of the activists locked themselves to the base of the 20-foot-tall, purple tripod structures — meant to represent “Purple Mountain Majesty” — and refused to leave until EPA administrator Lisa Jackson agreed to a fly-over tour of Appalachia to survey the damage being done by MTR, which she has yet to do.
This was just the latest in a string of MTR protests. Several activists have recently staged multi-day tree-sits, for instance. And last October, activists staged a sit-in at EPA headquarters to protest the MTR blasting that Massey Energy had begun on Coal River Mountain, WV, which is also the site of a proposed wind farm. Kinda symbolic, eh?
It’s definitely a good sign that the EPA is taking a harder line against MTR. But is it taking a hard enough line? According to the administrator for the region where the Spruce No. 1 mine would be located, “Coal, and coal mining, is part of our nation’s energy future, and for that reason EPA has made repeated efforts to foster dialogue and find a responsible path forward.”
So while the EPA is taking steps to make coal mining more environmentally friendly (if that’s possible) the agency is still paying lip service to coal as “part of our nation’s energy future.” The EPA may be merely looking to minimize the environmental destruction from coal mining as opposed to, say, reining in the most environmentally destructive coal mining practice – MTR – altogether.
All this means that while the permit for Spruce No. 1 has been delayed by the EPA’s announcement today, it is not at all guaranteed that the outcome of the review process initiated by the announcement will be favorable to mountains and the ecosystems of Appalachia.
Expect the protests to continue.
Photo credit: Rainforest Action Network