Friday, August 24, 2007

Expect More Topless Mountains

Here's John M. Broder of the New York Times on the prospect of even more topless mountains, and even more rivers and streams buried under heaps of slag.
The Bush administration is set to issue a regulation on Friday that would enshrine the coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. The technique involves blasting off the tops of mountains and dumping the rubble into valleys and streams.
It's a pretty simple process. You blow the tops off mountains, dig out the coal, dump the debris in the nearest valley, and head on down the road.
From 1985 to 2001, 724 miles of streams were buried under mining waste, according to the environmental impact statement accompanying the new rule.

If current practices continue, another 724 river miles will be buried by 2018, the report says.

The new rule would allow the practice to continue and expand, providing only that mine operators minimize the debris and cause the least environmental harm, although those terms are not clearly defined and to some extent merely restate existing law.

The Office of Surface Mining in the Interior Department drafted the rule, which will be subject to a 60-day comment period and could be revised, although officials indicated that it was not likely to be changed substantially.
It's a slick technique, isn't it? We've already made up our minds, now what did you want to talk about?"

The regulation is the culmination of six and a half years of work by the administration to make it easier for mining companies to dig more coal to meet growing energy demands and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
Reduce dependence on foreign oil? That's a good line. The administration should use it more often.
Government and industry officials say the rules are needed to clarify existing laws, which have been challenged in court and applied unevenly.

A spokesman for the National Mining Association, Luke Popovich, said that unless mine owners were allowed to dump mine waste in streams and valleys it would be impossible to operate in mountainous regions like West Virginia that hold some of the richest low-sulfur coal seams.

All mining generates huge volumes of waste, known as excess spoil or overburden, and it has to go somewhere. For years, it has been trucked away and dumped in remote hollows of Appalachia.

Environmental activists say the rule change will lead to accelerated pillage of vast tracts and the obliteration of hundreds of miles of streams in central Appalachia.

“This is a parting gift to the coal industry from this administration,” said Joe Lovett, executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment in Lewisburg, W.Va. “What is at stake is the future of Appalachia. This is an attempt to make legal what has long been illegal.”
Making legal what has long been illegal is one of the hallmarks of the Bush administration. So is ubiquitous corruption.
Environmental groups have gone to court many times, with limited success, to slow or stop the practice. They won an important ruling in federal court in 1999, but it was overturned in 2001 on procedural and jurisdictional grounds.

The Clinton administration began moving in 1998 to tighten enforcement [...], but the clock ran out before it could enact new regulations. The Bush administration has been much friendlier to mining interests, which have been reliable contributors to the Republican Party, and has worked on the new rule change since 2001.

The early stages of the revision process were supported by J. Stephen Griles, a former industry lobbyist who was the deputy interior secretary from 2001 to 2004. Mr. Griles had been deputy director of the Office of Surface Mining in the Reagan administration and is knowledgeable about the issues and generally supports the industry.

In June, Mr. Griles was sentenced to 10 months in prison and three years’ probation for lying to a Senate committee about his ties to Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist at the heart of a corruption scandal who is now in prison.
Abramoff again? What else is new?

Actually there's quite a lot more, and you can read it here ... or here.