By Rebekah Rast -
Those who are in line to receive a heap of coal in their stocking from Santa this year might want to hang on to it.
The EPA recently gave “further guidance” to the mountaintop mining industry. Using the Clean Water Act, coal mine plans must meet various expectations and guideposts before new projects or add-ons can begin.
Oddly enough, these standards set by the EPA only apply to six states that house the Appalachian Mountains and only apply to coal miners.
“The Administration is singling out coal miners by reinterpreting a law and tilting it in favor of Obama’s environmentalist agenda,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG).
Coal miners are now required to keep streams cleaner and to a higher standard than that of tap water.
Sound impossible? It is for most mountaintop coal miners in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and as far as southern Ohio.
Why does the new interpretation of the Clean Water Act only apply to six states affecting only one industry?
When EPA’s Administrator Lisa Jackson says, “the goal is a standard so strict that few, if any, permits would be issued for valley fills,” it makes one wonder the true motive behind the guidelines.
The coal industry in U.S. provides almost half of America’s electricity. Surface mining, which includes mountaintop mining and the use of valley fills, removes the top soil and brush and extracts entire coal seams from below the surface.
This type of mining runs vast through the states of the Appalachian Mountains. All of these states employ coal miners and all of their jobs and businesses are slowly being picked off by near-impossible guidelines they must follow.
“Coal mining is such a backbone industry in the Appalachia,” says Gene Kitts, senior vice president of mining services for the International Coal Group (ICG). “It employs tens of thousands directly, and if you simply say you can’t mine anymore, there aren’t a lot of options.”
Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, says, coal mining jobs are already being threatened. “Companies are doing all they can to keep people working,” he says. “There have been some layoffs. There is an overwhelming cloud of uncertainty. You go to work today, but you don’t know if you’ll go to work tomorrow.”
Since Obama took office, the coal mining industry has been under attack.
In a 2009 video interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Obama said, “Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”
Freezing the coal mining industry is a big step towards Obama’s cap-and-trade plan. From the Appalachia states of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, 269 million tons of coal was produced, nearly 25 percent of the nation’s entire production, Kitts says. By stopping, or even slowing down production in these areas, customers will soon be paying more for their electricity with a demand far exceeding the supply.
“This Administration is not friendly to coal by any means — mining or the use of coal,” Kitts says. “Using the Clean Water Act has been effective in stopping the mine permitting process. It’s managed to bring it to a halt.”
Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association (NMA) says the EPA uses “bad science” and only focuses on the results most beneficial to them.
“The studies the EPA cites show no comparison between mountaintop mining and the streams below,” Popovich says. “The studies don’t consider rainfall or the building of roads. They are cherry-picking what they want instead of looking at a range of data.”
Raney agrees and adds, “They will get anything they can and use it to support their anti-coal agenda.”
A press release by the NMA highlights analyses done by outside groups, GEI Consultants, Inc. and Norwest Corporations, on the studies the EPA is using to restrict mountaintop mining.
Some of the key findings by these groups include:
• The study (Pond-Passmore) EPA relied upon to set new water quality standards for valley fills at coal mining operations in Appalachia found no direct correlation between changes in water quality and aquatic life and the number or location of valley fills;
• EPA failed to establish cause and effect relationships by relying on field data from uncontrolled settings rather than laboratory data — in violation of its own methodology guidelines;
• EPA used too few organisms and relied on those rarely found under any condition to determine that a species is absent from an ecosystem; and
• EPA incorrectly characterized the findings of scientific research and selectively used conclusions to support various presumptions.
Popovich says a lawsuit was filed in July against the EPA’s science. Furthermore, Kitts says the EPA cannot prove the water quality in the Appalachian Mountains around mining sites is hurting humans and/or fish. Instead the EPA is only focusing on aquatic insects, like the Mayfly, that is sometimes found in streams in the Appalachia not near mining sites.
EPA has also enforced that the conductivity number in the water below mining operations must carry a rate of 500 or less. A conductivity rate measures how well typical water conducts an electric charge. The more minerals or solids in the water will give the water a higher conductivity rate.
Kitts says the conductivity in tap water is often at a rate between 600 and 750.
“The conductivity rate is not based on good science,” Kitts says. It is not an appropriate measure of impact on the environment.”
Kitts has many permits that have been in limbo for more than a year due to the heavy involvement of the EPA. “Complying with the EPA standards is nearly impossible,” he says.
A mining operator in West Virginia has been waiting for a green light to begin work for 13 years.
Arch Coal met all regulations to get a permit for the Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, West Virginia, to mine in the Appalachian coalfields. The operation finally received a fully valid permit in 2007. Now that permit is being questioned by the EPA.
A press release from Arch Coal states, “the Spruce permit is the most scrutinized and fully considered permit in West Virginia’s history.” After 13 years of waiting to begin the project, the EPA could quite possibly revoke the permit.
“At a time when the U.S. economy is still hurting, now is not the time to end coal production,” says Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association. “By harming coal you will damage the economy of the entire nation.”
Bissett estimates that the U.S. will increase electricity demands by 40 percent by 2025. “We will need every form of energy to meet that demand,” he says. “Coal should remain.”
For these Appalachia states it needs to remain. Kentucky alone gets 92 percent of its energy from coal, Bissett says. To pull the rug out from under these economies dependent on the production and use of coal would be a blow to the entire nation.
An Administration under heavy scrutiny for failing to provide job opportunities for almost 10 percent of the U.S. population is unfazed by the fact that it will soon add tens of thousands more to the unemployment lines.
“The EPA guidelines are nothing more than a plot to end coal production in the U.S.,” says ALG’s Wilson.
As coal miners and operators wait to hear their verdict from the EPA, you might want to plead Santa for some coal in your stocking this year.
It might prove useful.
Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government (ALG) News Bureau.