by TOM ZELLER Jr.
New York Times
April 1, 2010
The Environmental Protection Agency issued
tough new water quality guidelines on Thursday that could curtail
some of the most contentious coal mining techniques used across
In announcing the guidelines, Lisa P. Jackson,
the agency’s administrator, cited evolving science on the effects
of mountaintop removal mining, an aggressive form of coal
extraction that uses explosives and vast machinery to tear off
hilltops to expose coal seams, dumping the resulting rubble into
streams and valleys below. The goal of the new rules, Ms. Jackson
said, is to prevent “significant and irreversible damage” to
“Let me be clear,” Ms. Jackson said during a
phone call with reporters. “This is not about ending coal mining.
This is about ending coal mining pollution.”
The most substantial effect of the new
guidelines—which the agency will promulgate to regional offices
that issue permits—will be to benchmark the permissible levels of
mining runoff likely to be introduced into the waterways
surrounding a proposed project. Operations that would result in
levels roughly five times above normal would be considered too
Ms. Jackson suggested that one practical result
of the guidelines would be to make it far more difficult for
so-called valley fill operations, where layers of soil and rock
are removed from mountaintops and piled in nearby valleys and
streams, to receive permits.
Also on Thursday, the E.P.A. published a pair
of scientific reports that supported the new guidelines and
announced plans for a new Web-based clearinghouse that will track
mining permits under review.
Environmental groups hailed the guidelines as
long overdue and an important step in bringing science to bear on
“I think it’s a very good day for people in
Appalachia,” said Jon Devine, a senior attorney with the Natural
Resources Defense Council. “E.P.A. is making clear that it is
intending to follow the science when it issues permits.”
Mining industry representatives, however, said
the guidelines threatened jobs in the region.
“America’s coal mining communities are deeply
concerned by the impact of policy announced today by E.P.A. on
coal mining permits, employment and economic activity throughout
Appalachia,” Bruce Watzman, senior vice president for regulatory
affairs at the National Mining Association, said in an e-mailed
“The policy was announced without the required
transparency and opportunity for public comment that is afforded
to policies of this magnitude,” Mr. Watzman added.