Obama makes the wrong move on mountaintop removal

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Many of us got excited last year when Obama’s EPA appeared to be tightening the reins on mountaintop removal mining (MTR) in Appalachia. Aha! An administration that would actually make coal companies answer for the destruction they cause! An attempt to put some meaning back in the notions of "permits" and "protection"!

Well, that hope has gradually dwindled as the EPA backed off on scrutinizing a number of mine permits. And now, it’s O.K.d a permit that many see as a bellwether: the Hobet 45 mine in Lincoln County, West Virginia. (The EPA can’t actually approve the permit; it just tells the Army Corps of Engineers that it’s all right to approve it under the Clean Water Act.)

Apparently the EPA conducts negotiations with mining companies to mitigate the impacts of potential mines, which is why some see this as an example of the process working well. But if those negotiations amount to saying "No, you can’t bury six miles of headwater streams; you can only bury three," the term "environmental protection" starts to seem truly inappropriate.

Imagine if you called the police because your house was being robbed, and when they arrived they started conducting negotations between you and the intruder. "Oh, so you really need the money? How about if you only take half of what you planned to?" Would you feel served and protected? It’s an apt analogy: Homes really are being looted, with their drinking water destroyed among other ill effects.

We need a thorough review of the concept of MTR, with consideration for more than just the economy and jobs through the next couple of generations. What’s at stake involves dozens of generations, plus numerous species other than our own.

Opponents of MTR are justifiably upset that what had looked like a big step back on the part of the Obama administration now seems much weaker. Another big permit, for the Spruce No. 1 site, is still being challenged by the EPA, which is a positive sign. Anyone contacted Obama or the EPA’s Lisa Jackson to make your feelings known?

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