Right now, one of the best hopes for ending mountaintop removal mining lies in the EPA’s power to regulate water pollution. As it stands, Lisa Jackson (or another EPA executive) could, with a few strokes of her pen, take dramatic steps toward ending the cultural and environmental attack on Appalachia.
But a bill moving through the House (it just passed out of committee) is set to change that. Sponsored by John Mica (R-FL), the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act would give states, rather than the EPA, the final authority in water quality standards and Clean Water Act permits.
Here’s why that is important: There is a good chance that mountaintop removal mining is actually illegal because the process requires dumping mining waste in streams. The Bush Administration made these valley fills easier by revising the Clean Water Act back in 2002, but as Legal Planet explains,
Even with that change, large-scale valley fills would seem to violate the Clean Water Act’s prohibition on the issuance of federal permits that would lead to a violation of state water quality standards, and the Guidelines for section 404 permits developed by the Corps and EPA, which require that impacts on aquatic ecosystems be avoided and minimized to the maximum extent practicable.
Whether or not the practice is technically legal, mountaintop mining cannot be done without a permit to literally bury streams, and the EPA has the authority to veto those permits. The agency used this power in January when it blocked the Spruce Mine project in West Virginia.
The Dirty Water Act of 2011, as it’s been called, would transfer that authority to the states. This might seem like a good idea, since most Americans–including most West Virginians–oppose mountaintop removal. But the coal industry has essentially suspended democracy in Appalachia, flexing its monetary muscle to keep officials on its side. So turning clean water regulation over to states is almost the same as eliminating it altogether.
What you can do: Contact your Representative and ask him to vote no on HR 2018. iLoveMountains.org has a web form and sample letter to help you out.