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Saturday, January 15, 2011

shout it from the mountaintop

I have grown as weary of President Obama's premature compromises and bad salesmanship as the next Democrat. As I have pointed out elsewhere, his failure to trumpet his achievements is particularly keen in the matter of mining regulation. Case in point: the New York Times reported yesterday that the EPA has revoked the permit for a massive mountain-top removal coal project in West Virginia. According to the Times, 'It was the first time the agency had rescinded a valid clean water permit for a coal mine.' Yet somehow this major eco-political event has failed to become a major news item, nor should we expect to hear Democrats talk about it.

The permit was issued in 2007 by the Bush administation to the Arch Coal company to blast off the mountaintops over an area of 2,278 acres in order to mine the coal underneath. The millions of tons of debris would fill valleys, block streams, and pollute drinking water. The EPA's revocation comes in the form of a 99-page 'Final Determination' which you can read here.

Mining companies and West Virginia's 'Democratic' Senator Joe Manchin have unsurprisingly expressed outrage at the EPA's decision. Less interested parties have also objected, including the National Realtors Association, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association on the grounds that the government ought not revoke permits, i.e. do its job.

The authority for the EPA's revocation comes from 33 U.S.C. §1344(c), also known as §404(c) of the Clean Water Act:
(c) Denial or restriction of use of defined areas as disposal sites

The Administrator is authorized to prohibit the specification (including the withdrawal of specification) of any defined area as a disposal site, and he is authorized to deny or restrict the use of any defined area for specification (including the withdrawal of specification) as a disposal site, whenever he determines, after notice and opportunity for public hearings, that the discharge of such materials into such area will have an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas. Before making such determination, the Administrator shall consult with the Secretary. The Administrator shall set forth in writing and make public his findings and his reasons for making any determination under this subsection.
To the EPA's credit, its Final Determination includes, amidst all its ecological and statutory data, a section on 'Environmental Justice'. In addition to noting the relative poverty of Logan County, West Virginia, it also sticks up for the idea of the commons:
The mountains affected by Spruce No. 1 Mine are an important cultural resource for many residents. In many cases the mountains have helped define their culture, and they are an integral part of their daily lives. For example, the mountain ridges of southern West Virginia have for over two centuries been viewed largely as a 'commons', where local residents have gathered wild medicinal herbs such as American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) (Hufford 2003). In many cases, collection of these wild herbs provides much needed extra income to local communities during times of unemployment or economic hardship (Bailey 1999). Removing these mountains may have profound cultural changes on the residents in the area, and so it is important that cultural impacts be considered as well.
What dumbfounds me about all this is why the Obama administration allows stories like this one to be buried on page A14 of the newspaper and absent from television news. The mining interests are surely blasting this news to their constituents. Every mineworker who was hoping for one of the project's promised 250 jobs has surely heard from aptly-named Arch Coal that the project has been blocked by a tyrannical, overreaching government run amok. The people not getting the story are the everyday eco-friendly liberals whose votes the Obama administation will need in 2012. And so it goes.

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