EPA repeals rule that restricts mountaintop-removal mining

Despite vocal opposition from environmental groups, the public and politicians, the Environmental Protection Agency repealed a stream-buffer-zone rule that — since 1983 — had prohibited surface coal-mining activities within 100 feet of flowing streams.

Opponents say the repeal clears the way for an expansion of mountaintop removal. “The EPA’s decision is a slap in the face of Appalachian communities, which have already endured enough injustice from mountaintop removal,” said Vernon Haltom, co-director of the West Virginia-based Coal River Mountain Watch. “My home and thousands of others are now in greater jeopardy.”

The repeal was proposed by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM), which sought written approval from the EPA before it finalizing it. On Dec. 2, EPA administrator Steven Johnson signed off on the proposal.

Last month, Kentucky Gov. Steven Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway, and Reps. Ben Chandler and John Yarmuth each wrote letters to Johnson asking him not to allow the repeal. Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen also voiced concerns on behalf of his state.

“The regions most affected by this rule, in the Appalachian Coal Belt, are some of the poorest in the nation,” said Lane Boldman with the Sierra Club Cumberland (Kentucky) Chapter. “All they are asking for is some fundamental protection of their waterways so that they can continue to fish and swim downstream.”

In October, a nationwide poll on mountaintop-removal mining found that two out of three likely voters opposed the rule change. An Oct. 21 NY Times editorial noted that “more than 1,200 miles of streams in Appalachia already have been buried or destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining.” And then-presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama both voiced their opposition to the practice.

“Once again, the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to live up to its name. With less than two months left in power, the Bush administration is determined to cement its legacy as having the worst environmental record in history,” said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice.

By some measures, more than 400 mountaintops have been stripped of trees and flattened, 1,200 miles of mountain streams buried under rubble. The forests that once cloaked 387,000 acres of the world’s most ancient mountain range have been razed. If the industry is allowed to proceed at its current pace, an area the size of Delaware will have been lost, say environmental groups.

— Margaret Williams, contributing editor


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

12 thoughts on “EPA repeals rule that restricts mountaintop-removal mining

  1. kentuckyfarmgirl

    As Bush leaves, imaginging himself to be Abe Lincoln in his alcoholic haze, the money grubbers around him push this through. Of all environmental catastrophes, chopping off the top of a mountain and raining down toxic s*** on everything below (people, water sources, fish, wildlife), and ruining that mountain FOREVER, this is one of the worst. To think all of the affected states’ governors opposed it, and that EPA guy didn’t care at all. What SOBs they really are. Maybe Obama can reverse it FAST. Bush will go down as one of the most hated administrations in history.

  2. slowlocal

    This is an outrage!! Hey, Ky Farmgirl, I’m a Ky woman and I know you know how tragic this is for our beautiful Commonwealth, which has already been repeatedly raped. Obama is asking us all to give input on the change we want to see, and we must all call for this to be an immediate reversal. In the meantime, I refer you to Wendell Berry’s call for civil disobedience on “I Love Mountains Day”, February 14th, 2008 in his speech on the steps of the Kentucky capitol in opposition to mountaintop removal:
    “Kentucky conservationists are not the first people to have to confront their own
    helplessness before an alien government. Others have done so, and you know some of
    their names. Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King are two of them; there have
    been many others. Their solution to the problem of powerlessness is to make
    powerlessness a power. The name of this solution is non-violent resistance or insistence,
    including civil disobedience. If your government will not rise to the level of common
    decency, if it will not deal fairly, if it will not protect the land and people, if it will not
    fully and openly debate the issues, then you have to get in the government’s way. You
    have you forbid it to ignore you. You have to provide it with two new choices: either it
    must grant you the consideration that it rightfully owes you, or it must expose itself
    openly as a government not representative of the people but owned by the privileged
    few.” For the full text, see http://www.kftc.org/our-work/general-assembly/stream-saver-bill/Wendell Berry 2-14-08.pdf/view?searchterm=wendell berry

  3. Reality Check

    Luckily, it will be repealed immediately when Obama takes over. Its really a waste of time for W. Republicans punishing the environment again.

  4. Reality Check

    There will be no need for a court challenge luckily. It won’t last the first quarter of 2009. The court challenge would take much longer and cost big money. Obama will solve the issue for free.

  5. Dionysis

    It’s not just this disgraceful ruling from the Environmental Pollution Agency; a quick search will reveal that Bush is pushing through every anti-environmental act he can, from building coal plants next to national parks, opening up what’s left of our national forests for road building to rape the land, to allowing uranium mining near rivers and fragile ecosystems to exempting government agencies from compliance with environmental protections to removing protections for endangered animal life. This world-class criminal is bound and determined to leave as much of a mess as he can on the way out while lining even more the pockets of big business.

    Wait and see; someone will try and defend this lunacy.

  6. slowlocal

    Glad for your confidence, reality check. In the interim, however, there is plenty of destruction that will occur quickly. On the ground, W’s “waste of time” translates into very real destruction of land and waterways, and the health and welfare of people, fauna and flora.

    It’s likely the Sierra Club Cumberland Chapter, the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and perhaps the Kentucky Resources Council will challenge in court, but that takes time as well.

  7. kentuckyfarmgirl

    Problem is, and the Bush Admin. knows this well, it isn’ that easy to undo these rules, for procedural reasons. Whichever way he tries to do it, it takes a lot of time and energy … and damage is done in the meantime. They can ruin plenty of the natural environment in a year for months. Greedy b$$$###s. The governors of the affected states all wrote letters, but we know who owns the Republicanm party and this fraud of an administration. The people showing up to defend it, are fools. Sorry, but they are. The quote below is from http://www.concordmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081203/OPINION/812030331/1037/NEWS04

    President-elect Barack Obama’s administration has pledged to do all it can to prevent the “midnight rules changes” from going into effect, but it faces a daunting task. To undo them, it has three options. It can begin the rule review process again, a process that takes years, use a congressional amendment to the overturn the rule, or employ a legislative process to express formal disproval with the change, a tactic used but once before.

  8. Margaret Williams

    Keep an eye on the Last Days of Bush! But it’s up to us to push for the overturn of rules like this. It’s up to us to push for change in our attitudes toward climate change, global warming, etc. It starts at home.

    What can we do locally to make a difference?

  9. kentuckyfarmgirl

    What can we do locally? Support Margaret Williams, who has LONG written about these issues! Thanks MountanX.

  10. Margaret Williams

    Thank you! but now I feel old. Besides, I’m a newbie to this enviro beat. Run a search here at Xpress, and you’ll find a long list of good enviro reporting from former Green Scene editor, Rebecca Bowe, and a host of other Xpress writers over the years.

    If you haven’t already, visit our Community forums for an exchange of ideas on environmental issues, and tweak our ear on the issues that need covering.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.