Thursday, June 11, 2009

Obama Admin Plans Mitigation of Mountaintop Removal

Obama Administration officials announced today that they are taking unprecedented steps to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop coal mining in the six Appalachian states of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia through a coordinated approach between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of the Interior (DOI) and Army Corps of Engineers. Through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior; and Terrence “Rock” Salt, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. The administration will implement an Interagency Action Plan on mountaintop coal mining that will:

1) Minimize the adverse environmental consequences of mountaintop coal mining throughshort-term actions to be completed in 2009;

2) Undertake longer-term actions to tighten the regulation of mountaintop coal mining;

3) Ensure coordinated and stringent environmental reviews of permit applications under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1997 (SMCRA);

4) Engage the public through outreach events in the Appalachian region to help inform thedevelopment of Federal policy; and

5) Federal Agencies will work in coordination with appropriate regional, state, and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the health and welfare of Appalachian communities.

In close coordination, EPA, DOI, and the Corps will take several short-term actions to reform the regulation of mountaintop coal mining under the two primary environmental laws governing this mining practice.The Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency will take immediate steps under the CWA to minimize environmental harm by taking the following actions in 2009:

1) Requiring more stringent environmental reviews for future permit applications for mountaintop coal mining;

2) Within 30 days of the date of the MOU, the Corps will issue a public notice (pursuant to 33 C.F.R. § 330.5) proposing to modify Nationwide Permit (NWP) 21 to preclude its use to authorize the discharge of fill material into streams for surfacecoal mining activities in the Appalachian region, and will seek public comment onthe proposed action;

3) Strengthening permit reviews under CWA regulations (Section 404(b)(1)) to reduce theharmful direct and cumulative environmental impacts of mountaintop coal mining on streamsand watersheds;

4) Strengthening EPA coordination with states on water pollution permits for discharges fromvalley fills and state water quality certifications for mountaintop coal mining operations; and

5) Improving stream mitigation projects to increase ecological performance and compensate for losses of these important waters of the United States.

The Department of Interior will also take the following steps:

1) Reevaluate and determine how the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement(OSM) will more effectively conduct oversight of state permitting, state enforcement, andregulatory activities under SMCRA;

2) Ensure the protection of wildlife resources and endangered species by coordinating thedevelopment of CWA guidance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS); and

3) If the U.S. District Court vacates the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule, as requested by the Secretary of the Interior on April 27, 2009, Interior will issue guidance clarifying theapplication of stream buffer zone provisions in a preexisting 1983 SMCRA regulation toensure mining activities will occur in a more environmentally protective way in or nearAppalachian streams.

Concurrent with these short-term actions, the three agencies will embark on a comprehensive, coordinated review of their existing respective regulations and procedures governing mountaintop coal mining under existing law. The agencies will also create an interagency working group to promote ongoing Federal collaboration and ensure the Action Plan achieves results. As these reforms are implemented, the agencies will seek to involve the public and guide Federal actions through robust public comment and outreach. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are today taking steps to enhance coordination in the environmental review of pending Clean Water Act permits for surface coal mining activities inAppalachian States.

Administrator Jackson and Acting Assistant Secretary Salt have directed EPAand Corps field offices to coordinate under new procedures to ensure Clean Water Act permit decisions are fully consistent with sound science and the law, reduce adverse environmental impacts,provide greater public participation and transparency, and address pending permits in a more timelymanner. The Federal agencies will also work in coordination with appropriate regional, state, and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the healthand welfare of Appalachian communities. This interagency effort will have a special focus onstimulating clean enterprise and green jobs development, encouraging better coordination among existing federal efforts, and supporting innovative new ideas and initiatives.

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