More News From the Coal Front: Mountaintop Mining Takes One Hit — and May Face Another

This week, the practice of mountaintop removal – chopping the tops off mountains in order extract the coal – received two blows: one from EPA and one from Congress. First, EPA offices Region 3 and Region 4 announced that they plans to assess the Central Appalachia Mining’s Big Branch project in Pike County, Ky., and the Highland Mining Company’s Reylas mine in Logan County, W.Va., before permits are issued for those projects.

Although the broad brush is important here, so are some of the details. First, both letters raise concerns about the cumulative impacts of multiple mountaintop removal projects. Second, the Region 3 letter raises the possibility that EPA might use its authority under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to prohibit issuance of the required permit, noting that the “extensive cumulative and other impacts give this proposed project high potential” for action under § 404(c).  

The second blow was the introduction in Congress of legislation that would prohibit mountaintop removal. Of course, introduction doesn’t guarantee passage, but it does seem notable that one of the two sponsors is Lamar Alexander, both a Republican and a Senator from a coal mining state. Senator Alexander’s support suggests that a tipping point may have been reached on this issue.

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