Trying to end the practice of mountaintop removal mining (MTR) by reducing the amount of debris that can be dumped into adjoining valleys is sort of like trying to end genocide by limiting the height of the mass graves in Darfur. Attacking the symptom will not make the root cause go away.
It is a start, one which will ultimately make it more difficult to blow apart mountains, but after a full year of extensive research by the EPA into the seemingly endless impacts of MTR on the communities of Appalachia, many of us were hoping for a more immediate end to the Appalachian Apocalypse.
On April 1, EPA head Lisa Jackson invited a bunch of journalists to join a call about the MTR ruling (PDF). I'm not going to say I wasn't elated. According to Jackson, this move will theoretically block 95 percent of MTR proposals. The EPA has been trying and failing since the early '70s to put ironclad regulations in place that would limit the most harmful strip-mining practices. As Jeff Biggers blogged on Huff Po:
Forty years later, with over 500 mountains and 1.2 million acres of hardwood forests decimated and blown to bits, with more than 2,000 miles of streams and waterways jammed with toxic coal waste, and untold thousands of Americans forcefully removed from their historic communities, the nightmare of mountaintop removal appears to be coming to the end of a long and tortuous road of regulations.
Case in point — the VERY SAME DAY, the Obama administration dealt a shocking blow to environmentalists by backing a Bush-era policy that allows nearly limitless access to treasured public lands for dumping of toxic mining debris.
So if you think we've won a victory, I have this to say the environmental community: your war is only just begun. Forty years of case law —largely ruling in favor of coal mining companies that claim the "burden of proof" should be shouldered by plaintiffs not defendants — will make any EPA regulation hotly contested in courts, especially as Tea Bagger anti-regulation hysteria escalates across the country.
So political pressure is still needed in Washington and at the state level (in the 20 states which allow strip mining). Two very important bills are gaining bipartisan steam — the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 1310) which has 167 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, and the Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696) in the Senate — and they will add buttresses to the foundation of the EPA ruling.
But let's not forget who is keeping the lights on. JP Morgan Chase is one of the financial institutions that continues to fund MTR and the destruction of hundreds of pristine Appalachian mountains. And let's not forget the customers who buy this ultra-dirty coal. Hundreds of municipalities (including the city of Los Angeles which is still making the ludicrous claim to be the "greenest city" in the U.S.) all purchase coal power from plants that buy MTR coal.
We need a citizen/consumer uprising to tell banks like CHASE and cities like Los Angeles that it is not OK to fund MTR, either directly or indirectly. Only with this triple threat — the EPA ruling, federal legislation and consumer watchdogs — will we finally topple the coal industry ... an industry which, for now, remains the king of the mountain.
Photo from Green Energy Holdings.