Spruce 1

Mountain top removal is a form of coal mining that is design to remove the coal miner from coal mining and enhance profits. It is a Sabine rape of the environment and its costs are inter-generational. Repairing the damage done will take thousands of years.

The New York Times reports that the Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to veto mountaintop mining above a little Appalachian valley called Pigeonroost Hollow located in West Virginia near the Kentucky border.

The Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit in 2007 to blast 400 feet off the hilltops here to expose the rich coal seams, disposing of the debris in the upper reaches of six valleys, including Pigeonroost Hollow.

But the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration, in a break with President George W. Bush’s more coal-friendly approach, has threatened to halt or sharply scale back the project known as Spruce 1. The agency asserts that the project would irrevocably damage streams and wildlife and violate the Clean Water Act.

Because it is one of the largest mountaintop mining projects ever and because it has been hotly disputed for a dozen years, Spruce 1 is seen as a bellwether by conservation groups and the coal industry.

The fate of the project could also have national reverberations, affecting Democratic Party prospects in coal states. While extensive research and public hearings on the plan have been completed, federal officials said that their final decision would not be announced until late this year — perhaps, conveniently, after the midterm elections.

Environmental groups say that approval of the project in anything like its current form would be a betrayal.

“Spruce 1 is a test of whether the E.P.A. is going to follow through with its promises,” said Bill Price, director of environmental justice with the Sierra Club in West Virginia.

“If the administration sticks to its guns,” Mr. Price predicted, “mountaintop removal is going to be severely curtailed.”

Coal companies say politics, not science, is threatening a practice vital to local economies and energy independence. “After years of study, with the company doing everything any agency asked, and three years after a permit was issued, the E.P.A. now wants to stop Spruce 1,” said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. “It’s political; the only thing that has changed is the administration.”

While the government does not collect statistics on mountaintop mining, data suggest that it may account for about 10 percent of American coal output, yielding 5 percent of the nation’s electricity. The method plays a bigger economic role in the two states where it is concentrated, Kentucky and West Virginia.

The Obama Administration often exasperates but on this it has the opportunity to restore a balance to mining practices. We urge the EPA to act and to curtail the practice. I'll say this to Bill Raney, the president of the West Virginia Coal Association: it's not about politics, it's about values and what sort of planet we leave to future generations. Mountaintop removal is simply a radical form of coal mining in which entire mountains are literally blown up. It is doing things on the cheap but the leaving the full costs to be borne by succeeding generations. It is immoral.

Alexis Madrigal, the lead technology writer for The Atlantic, reports that "in a 2009 study of Appalachian coal mining, Colorado State political scientists Charles Davis and Robert Duffy found that the Bush administration "effectively achieved his energy production goals by combining the use of discretionary authority with staff controls, executive orders, and regulatory initiatives to lessen industry compliance costs with environmental regulatory requirements."

You can learn more about the practices of mountaintop removal mining and its impact on the communities it affects at I Love Mountains and Appalachian Voices.


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