Energy News | Clean Water Act Could Block Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Permits

Mountaintop removalVery big news out of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this morning – the agency has determined that all 79 mountaintop removal mining permits submitted to them for review by the Army Corps of Engineers would likely violate the Clean Water Act. After eight long years of rubber-stamp permits being issued during the Bush Administration, this is one of the most dramatic and encouraging actions yet by the Obama Administration, and marks a welcome return of the rule of law to the coalfields of Appalachia.

Mountaintop removal – a devastating form of coal mining that involves blowing up mountains and dumping the former mountaintops into neighboring valleys, burying streams – is governed by a patchwork of laws and federal agencies. Permits to bury streams with mining waste are initially issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, but EPA has ultimate oversight and may veto Corps-issued permits if they fail to comply with the Clean Water Act.

During the Bush Administration, EPA never opposed or challenged a permit, despite the fact that they clearly violated laws on the books to protect clean water and public health. Apparently, those days are over. This dramatic announcement by EPA that every single one of the 79 pending permits violates the Clean Water Act is a condemnation of the quality of permits being churned out during the Bush Administration and is a testament to the Obama Administration’s sincere commitment to science, transparency, and enforcing environmental safeguards.

All of these permits had piled up behind a court decision that was issued in February, and so most of them were written during the Bush Administration. For those eight years, permits were being issued that violated the Clean Water Act, but EPA was prevented from objecting to the permits. Clearly there is a new sheriff in town.

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