Mountaintop removal mining is like something out of a nightmare; chop off the top of mountains, rip out all the coal inside, and dump the rubble in the valleys in between. What's left behind is a ruined landscape, a wasteland of missing mountaintops, choked streams and rivers, massive toxic sludge ponds, and eradicated habitats.
Coal is cheap only because most of the costs of ripping it out of the ground and burning it are externalized; you don't pay for the pollution created at the power plant on your electricity bill nor the incalculable cost of wiping entire mountain ranges off the map.
In a move that has surprised no one, the Bush Administration wants to open up the range of land available for mountaintop removal mining. The lame duck GOP administration has been scrambling to get rules and regulations in place (or removed) ahead of the upcoming transfer of power to Barack Obama and this latest move is a gift to the mining industry. It will repeal a 1983 law that prohibited surface coal mining within 100 feet of streams, opening up large areas of land previously off limits.
On top of that, Bush wants to ease restrictions on mining near the Grand Canyon and other national parks, let power plants skip installing pollution controls, lower air quality standards for lead, open up public lands for oil shale development (something that rivals mountaintop removal mining for environmental destruction), and let factory farms dump more of their animal wastes into waterways.
Obama has options though; he'll have either 30 or 60 days (depending on the cost of the rule or regulation) to order his agency heads to halt work on new rules until he has time to review it. And in an ironic twist of fate, a Clinton era law called the Congressional Review Act, passed by a Republican Congress looking to overturn Bill's last minute rules changes, gives the President six months to disapprove any rules enacted within six months before Congress adjourns. The Congressional Review Act isn't an easy fix though, it still requires Congress to vote on each law or rule disapproved of.
Is it January 20th yet?