By Rob Perks
As someone who spent considerable time tracking every good, bad and ugly environmental action by the Bush administration, I can say without a doubt that things are looking a whole lot brighter under the new regime. To wit, NRDC just released a report highlighting the welcome changes we've witnessed over the past year.
Indeed, in his first year in office President Obama and his administration have taken a remarkable number of actions to address a wide variety of environmental challenges. From investing in clean energy technology through the stimulus bills to increasing energy efficiency, the administration has done more in its first few months to protect our air, water and communities than we’ve seen in the last decade. The hallmark of the administration’s first year record was the decision to put the nation on a path toward a cleaner energy future. President Obama has also made important progress across a range of environmental policies, in contrast to the previous administration, which was one of the worst on record. While much work remains to be done, the level of protection has been raised in many areas, damage from the previous administration has been reversed, and good policies already in place have been retained.
After eight years of the Bush administration not just refusing to rein in this destructive strip mining, but actually facilitating it through policy changes and lax enforcement, the Obama administration has begun to take positive steps toward curtailing mountaintop removal (MTR). Although the administration approved 42 of 48 MTR permits last spring, this fall the EPA cited water quality concerns in blocking 79 other pending MTR permits until it completes a more thorough environmental review of each proposed project. In addition, for the first time since Congress enacted the Clean Water Act in 1972, the EPA exerted its "veto" authority to revoke a previously permitted mining project—a proposed mine in West Virginia that would have been the largest mountaintop removal operation ever in Appalachia.
This fight is expected to heat up even more in 2010 and we all hope the increased exposure of this atrocity will result in bringing mountaintop removal to an end.
My friend and fellow advocate Jeff Biggers offers his own perspective on where things stand on the issue and what needs to happen to stop the mining madness and save the mountains:
"The well-meaning EPA has suspended various mountaintop removal permits, but still lacks the resolve and ultimate authority to abolish this reckless form of mining operation, despite indisputable Clean Water Act violations; the Office on Surface Mining Reclamation Enforcement lacks the resolve to reverse the Bush administration's blatant manipulation of the Stream Buffer Zone before 2011, and President Barack Obama, despite his presidential campaign promises to find another way of mining coal without blowing up our nation's oldest mountain range and historic communities, lacks the resolve to halt the most egregious human rights and environmental violation in our nation."
"In the meantime, investment for green jobs and clean energy is desperately needed in the Appalachian coalfields, as part of a just transition: Every coal miner deserves a right to a sustainable livelihood. This means that coalfield residents, like all Americans, deserve a road map for a feasible transition to clean-energy jobs -- including a Coal Miner's GI Bill for retraining and a massive reinvestment in sustainable economic development in coalfield communities--before we reach a point of no return."
Biggers correctly points out that, ultimately, Congress needs to legislate mountaintop removal out of existence via the bi-partisan bills currently under consideration. Please take a moment to encourage your elected officials to support the Clean Water Protection Act in the House and the Appalachia Restoration Act in the Senate.