A Sick Parting Gift: Bush Administration Gutting Protections Against Mountain Top Removal

In a particularly sick parting gift to the people of Appalachia, the Bush Administration is attempting to gut a critical protection against the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining that is decimating mountains, watersheds and communities across the region. An editorial in today’s New York Times calls attention to this dastardly move, and ILoveMountains.org has a great backgrounder and opportunity to take action here.

The provision under attack, known as the Stream Buffer Rule, prohibits coal mining activities from disturbing areas within a 100-foot “buffer” of an intermittent or perennial stream. The buffer zone rule states that coal mining activities cannot disturb these sensitive areas unless water quality and quantity will not be adversely impacted – a tall order for mountain top removal mines which routinely dump the remains of entire mountains on top of streambeds in a practice known as “valley fill.”

The Bush Administration proposal essentially repeals this important regulation and would allow coal companies to permanently bury Appalachian streams beneath hundreds of millions of tons of mining waste. This proposal takes the “buffer” right out of the “buffer zone” rule and allows coal companies to dump waste directly into streams.

As ILoveMountains explains it:

The Bush administration has already relaxed Clean Water Act safeguards that protected Appalachian mountain streams from mountaintop removal mines. Now, the administration is targeting a Reagan-era rule known as the “buffer zone rule” … Already, nearly 2,000 miles of mountain streams in Appalachia have been buried by mountaintop removal waste, wiping out these streams and causing flooding and destruction in the surrounding communities. The Bush administration’s failure to enforce the buffer zone law led to an additional 535 miles of stream impacts nationwide during between 2001 and 2005. Thus, the repeal of the buffer zone rule allows more than 1,000 miles of streams to be destroyed each decade into the future. Permanently destroying thousands of miles of mountain streams is more than irresponsible; it is insane

The NY Times editorial board offers a potential explanation for Bush’s urgent rush to gut the buffer zone rule:

Both John McCain and Barack Obama have said in the last month [thanks to urging from organizers like you!] that they oppose mountaintop removal, which may explain the administration’s mad dash to rewrite the rule before a more conservation-minded administration arrives in town. Their opposition also inspires slim hopes among environmentalists that Stephen Johnson, the E.P.A.’s administrator, would withhold his approval. That would be an enormous surprise, but also enormously welcome.

Head here to tell the EPA to strengthen the buffer zone rule, not undermine it and then send a letter to your member of Congress to urge them to put back in place Clean Water Act protections that would curtail the environmental and human devastation caused by mountaintop removal. Whichever presidential candidate is elected, we face perhaps the best opportunity yet to end mountaintop removal once and for all. Make sure that president has a Congress that’s with them.

About Jesse

Jesse Jenkins is an energy and climate policy analyst, advocate, and blogger. Jesse is the Director of Energy and Climate Policy at the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, California, where he works to develop and advance new energy solutions to power America's future, secure our energy freedom, and halt global warming. He joined Breakthrough in June 2008 and previously directed the Breakthrough Generation fellowship program for young clean energy leaders. Jesse worked previously as a Research and Policy Associate at the Renewable Northwest Project in Portland, OR, helping to advance the development of the Pacific Northwest's abundant renewable energy potential. A prolific author and blogger on clean energy issues, Jesse is the founder and chief editor of WattHead - Energy News and Commentary, a featured writer and advisory board member at the Energy Collective, and a frequent contributor at Forbes.com, Huffington Post, and Grist.org.

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