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This Week in Green – Nov. 22, 2010

PA Blasts Mountaintop Mining

It’s an uphill battle, literally and figuratively, but the Environmental Protection Agency recently took a giant first step in possibly stemming the tide of mountaintop removal coal mining.

The EPA recommended repealing a permit for a huge project called Spruce 1 in West Virginia, the first time ever the agency has taken that step. The EPA based its decision on what portended to be the devastating environmental impact on the surrounding area.

Mountaintop mining involves the use of explosives to blast away mountaintops to reveal caches of coal and has long been a controversial practice of coal companies.

In addition to ravaging the beauty of the land, mountaintop mining has been shown to pollute drinking water. In Charleston, WV, water was found to be laced with arsenic, lead and barium, among other chemicals and heavy metals. The practice also increases flooding from deforestation, clogs and buries streams and creates toxic coal sludge.

Specifically, the Spruce 1 mine project would have buried 7 miles of streams, wiped out thousands of acres of forests, and disrupted and uprooted many of the families in the region.

The EPA’s recommendation is not final and does not signify victory of any sort. Nor will it resolve the issue on Capitol Hill, where there are plenty of pro-coal Congresspeople on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and House.

But what it does signify is a pause in the mountaintop mining free-for-all, and an opportunity to review more thoroughly projects like Spruce 1 and their potentially devastating impact on the environment.

That impact is quantifiable and according to the latest study by the Sierra Club, the hidden costs of coal mining far outweigh its positive impact on the economy in Appalachia, where it does create jobs, tax revenue and reduced electricity costs.

“When all environmental and health externalities are accounted for,” the study said, “coal mining costs the residents of Appalachia more than $100 million annually – costs that are being paid by society and not by the coal producers who are making the profits.”

With mountaintop mining being among the most extreme and environmentally damaging forms of mining, it is worth the longest look.