Environmental groups come to EPA's defense

Jessica M. Karmasek Oct. 15, 2010, 11:36am


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - A coalition of regional environmental groups on Wednesday filed a motion to intervene in defense of the Obama administration's crackdown on mountaintop removal mining.

Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, Coal River Mountain Watch, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy were the groups listed in a news release.

Lawyers for the groups filed a motion to intervene in defense of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a lawsuit brought by the National Mining Association in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia last month.

The groups are in support of the EPA's new Clean Water Act guidance and the agencies' joint permit review process.

In a news release, the groups said they filed the motion "to improve compliance with legal protections for mining communities in Appalachia, where waterways have already suffered extensive damage from mountaintop removal coal mining."

They go on to say that the mining industry "should not be able to prevent government agencies from doing their jobs."

Debbie Jarrell, assistant director of Coal River Mountain Watch, said in a statement on Thursday, "For 40 years the Clean Water Act has protected Americans from unacceptable pollution like the mining waste that destroys our essential mountain streams. But here in Appalachia, we're still waiting for real protection."

They claim more than 2,000 miles of streams have been buried by mountaintop removal mining to date.

"For too long, this destructive mining practice has escaped important Clean Water Act scrutiny," said Cathie Bird, chair of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment's E3 Committee, "and in the meantime mountaintop removal mining has destroyed an enormous part of our mountain range and buried our waters with their mining waste and pollution."

The National Mining Association, in its filing last month, wants a court order barring the administration from using a policy designed to limit surface mining.

The association sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers over the issue in July.

The newest lawsuit seeks to overturn the policy, which the EPA unveiled in April.

The mining association says the agencies are illegally preventing mines from obtaining water quality permits to dispose of excess material by burying streams and are circumventing the normal rulemaking process in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

The new EPA policy tightened water quality standards in hopes of eliminating valley fills in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee.

"The National Mining Association's challenge is an attempt to avoid the law and derail strong science -- both of which will protect the people and communities of Appalachia," Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez said in a statement.

The mining association's filing follows a bill introduced -- also last month -- by Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and lawmakers from other coal industry states that say they would block the EPA and the Corps from using federal funds to proceed with implementing the two sets of EPA guidance.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said the policy is designed to make it nearly impossible to obtain a valley fill permit in those states.

The agency maintains that "it has reason to believe that discharges from surface mining activities have a significant potential to cause nonattainment of applicable water quality standards downstream from valley fills, impoundments, and sediment ponds."

Environmentalists cheer the EPA policy for curbing mountaintop removal coal mining. The practice is considered too destructive by opponents, but mine operators defend it as an efficient way to extract coal for electric power plants in much of the eastern United States.

"EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson took bold action on mountaintop removal coal mining, and the National Mining Association is scared that its days of unchecked pollution are coming to an end," Ed Hopkins, senior Washington, D.C., director for the Sierra Club said in a statement Thursday.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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