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December 5, 2007

The Top of Old Smokey Might be Gone

I'm worried that other countries are going to stop trading with us because our lax environmental enforcement - allowing, for example, hundreds of miles of streams to be destroyed to lower the price of energy - gives us an unfair advantage. Here's part of the house that Jack built:

Rule to Expand Mountaintop Coal Mining, by John M. Broder, NY Times: The Bush administration is set to issue a regulation on Friday that would enshrine the coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. The technique involves blasting off the tops of mountains and dumping the rubble into valleys and streams. ... The new rule would allow the practice to continue and expand...

The regulation is the culmination of six and a half years of work by the administration to make it easier for mining companies to dig more coal to meet growing energy demands and reduce dependence on foreign oil. ...

A spokesman for the National Mining Association, Luke Popovich, said that unless mine owners were allowed to dump mine waste in streams and valleys it would be impossible to operate in mountainous regions like West Virginia that hold some of the richest low-sulfur coal seams...

Environmental activists say the rule change will lead to accelerated pillage of vast tracts and the obliteration of hundreds of miles of streams in central Appalachia.

“This is a parting gift to the coal industry from this administration,” said Joe Lovett, executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment in Lewisburg, W.Va...

Mountaintop mining is the most common strip mining in central Appalachia, and the most destructive. Ridge tops are flattened with bulldozers and dynamite, clearing all vegetation and, at times, forcing residents to move. ...

Roughly half the coal in West Virginia is from mountaintop mining, which is generally cheaper, safer and more efficient than extraction from underground mines...

The rule ... is known as the stream buffer zone rule. First adopted in 1983, it forbids virtually all mining within 100 feet of a river or stream. ...

The Army Corps of Engineers, state mining authorities and local courts have read the rule liberally, allowing extensive mountaintop mining and dumping of debris in coal-rich regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

From 1985 to 2001, 724 miles of streams were buried under mining waste, according to the environmental impact statement accompanying the new rule.

If current practices continue, another 724 river miles will be buried by 2018, the report says. ...

The early stages of the revision process were supported by J. Stephen Griles, a former industry lobbyist who was the deputy interior secretary from 2001 to 2004. Mr. Griles had been deputy director of the Office of Surface Mining in the Reagan administration and is knowledgeable about the issues and generally supports the industry.

In June, Mr. Griles was sentenced to 10 months in prison and three years’ probation for lying to a Senate committee about his ties to Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist at the heart of a corruption scandal who is now in prison. ...

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