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Bush Administration Backs Mountaintop Removal:

As has been expected, the Bush Administration is proposing to make it easier for mining companies to engage in so-called mountaintop mining aka mountaintop removal. This mining method involves blowing the tops off of mountains so as to expose coal deposits, and depositing the resulting rubble in adjacent valleys and streams. On Friday, the official day for most Bush Administration environmental announcements, the Office of Surface Mining will publish proposed regulations explicitly allowing for the practice subject to certain conditions, according to the New York Times. "The new rule would allow the practice to continue and expand, providing only that mine operators minimize the debris and cause the least environmental harm, although those terms are not clearly defined and to some extent merely restate existing law." Among other things, mining companies will be required to engage in some land reclamation after mining is complete.

Roughly half the coal in West Virginia is from mountaintop mining, which is generally cheaper, safer and more efficient than extraction from underground mines like the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah, which may have claimed the lives of nine miners and rescuers, and the Sago Mine in West Virginia, where 12 miners were killed last year.

The rule, which would apply to waste from both types of mines, is known as the stream buffer zone rule. First adopted in 1983, it forbids virtually all mining within 100 feet of a river or stream.

The Interior Department drafted the proposal to try to clear up a 10-year legal and regulatory dispute over how the 1983 rule should be applied. The change is to be published on Friday in The Federal Register, officials said.

The Army Corps of Engineers, state mining authorities and local courts have read the rule liberally, allowing extensive mountaintop mining and dumping of debris in coal-rich regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

From 1985 to 2001, 724 miles of streams were buried under mining waste, according to the environmental impact statement accompanying the new rule.

If current practices continue, another 724 river miles will be buried by 2018, the report says. . . .

Interior Department officials said they could not comment on the rule because it had not been published. But a senior official of the Office of Surface Mining said the stream buffer rule was never intended to prohibit all mining in and around streams, but rather just to minimize the effects of such work.

Even with the best techniques and most careful reclamation, surface or underground mining will always generate mountains of dirt and rock, he said.

"There's really no place to put the material except in the upper reaches of hollows," the official said. "If you can't put anything in a stream, there's really no way to even underground mine."

He said the regulation would explicitly state that the buffer zone rule does not apply for hundreds of miles of streams and valleys and that he hoped, but did not expect, that the rule would end the fight over mine waste.

myalterego:
I love this line:

"On Friday, the official day for most Bush Administration environmental announcements..."

Yes, Friday is take out the trash day.
8.23.2007 10:16am
WHOI Jacket:
I thought Friday was the normal announcement day for most government things.


This is a bad idea, anyway. Burying riverheads endangers the water supplies downstream.
8.23.2007 11:40am
Buck Turgidson (mail):
In one--or several--of the more infamous moments, Joseph Stalin proclaimed that he will move mountains and turn back streams. In a sense, he'd done that--and his successors continued to build one of the worst environmental disasters to date. It appears that these idiots want to top that.
8.23.2007 12:36pm
Houston Lawyer:
Mining is a dirty hazardous business. There will be some tradeoffs with regard to the environment. Try not pretending otherwise.
8.23.2007 2:02pm
Fub:
Buck Turgidson wrote at 8.23.2007 11:36am:
In one--or several--of the more infamous moments, Joseph Stalin proclaimed that he will move mountains and turn back streams. In a sense, he'd done that--and his successors continued to build one of the worst environmental disasters to date. It appears that these idiots want to top that.
Stalin was a commie. This isn't. It's faith based environmental regulation. So it will work just fine. There is both Old and New Testament authority:

Isaiah 40:4-5
4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
Luke 3:4-6
3:4 As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

3:5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;

3:6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.


There won't be so much annoying crying in the wilderness when there is no wilderness to cry in.
8.23.2007 2:04pm
CaseyL (mail):
There will be some tradeoffs with regard to the environment.


"Tradeoffs" usually means all sides get something they want in return for accepting something they don't want.

What's the tradeoff benefit we get in return for putting up with destruction of our land, air, and water?
8.23.2007 2:08pm
PersonFromPorlock:

What's the tradeoff benefit we get in return for putting up with destruction of our land, air, and water?

Well, the lights come on when you flick the switch and you have the comfort of knowing they're not powered by a nasty nuclear reactor.
8.23.2007 2:32pm
fishbiologicalgeolgistboyfromWv (mail):
This is not the time to narrow-mindedly assume any industry can replicate surface and groundwater dynamics which took millions of years create. The track records show that certain administrations ignore sound, peer- reviewed science initentionally. Just as we abide by the laws of this land, we should honor the science. Are we to assume that if an individual was to obtain acedemic credentials enabling them to draw defensible conclusions regarding the impacts of any said practices, they would be ignored by the whimsical want of stockholders????

Why go to college in the first place?????

Every individual who wants to see what this practice really does should check it out via Google Earth.

Let's goooooooo, mountaineeeeers????????
8.23.2007 2:50pm
BGates (www):
Why go to college in the first place?????

To learn the rhetorical impact of excessive punctuation?
(??????, etc)

Clearly mountaintop mining is wrong, as are underground mining, drilling for domestic oil, relying on foreign oil producers, nuclear power, nucular power, and windmills that obstruct the view from Martha's Vineyard. That's why I've sent this comment in via carrier pigeon.
8.23.2007 3:43pm
An0n:
Very well said, BGates!
8.23.2007 3:54pm
fishbiologicalgeolgistboyfromWv (mail):
It is great to see that some folks are more interested in personal ego than with solutions to help save an imperiled planet. I am not surprised. In fact, some people are so predictable. Sheep or human?
You choose your own fate. Don't be afraid. Vertebrate? Yes or no?

The fact that some have acknowledged the existance of such destructive practices is encouraging.

I am trying to get constructive feedback to help with the public comment process.


Thanks
8.23.2007 4:15pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"The track records show that certain administrations ignore sound, peer- reviewed science initentionally."

Science doesn't reveal the best course of human actions. It gives us information that is factored into decision making. Nor does science assign values to alternatives. Scientists might do that, but when they do, they are nor doing science.
8.23.2007 4:25pm
anym_avey (mail):
It is great to see that some folks are more interested in personal ego than with solutions to help save an imperiled planet.

Quick question: What imperils the planet, and for whom are we saving it? (If the answers to both questions are "human existence", then count me out of this exercise.)

Most people like their lights to come on, but have no idea just how vast a repository of coal is required to make it happen. Ever watch a freight train go by with 120+ coal cars hitched up? That powers a medium-sized city (includuing light industry) for a week at most. That coal comes out of the earth, and the rubble surrounding the coal seams...well, suffice to say it doesn't burn, so it has to be dumped somewhere.

It's well and good to protest "but the environment!", but unless you're planning to start living solely off the land first thing tomorrow morning, you had better be prepared to explain what the alternative is -- and it has to be something feasible, not "anything but what was proposed".

IMO nuclear would be nice, but let's actually see that happen (it can take 10+ years to build a plant from scratch and bring it fully online, not including the time needed to work it past the NIMBYs and misguided greenies) before abandoning this "coal" thing too quickly.
8.23.2007 5:51pm
Curt Fischer:
Wow, for the first time in recent memory all of the comments on a VC thread are far, far more "pro-environment" than me.

PersonFromPorlock has it right, I think. Coal is a fundamentally dirty fuel, and mining it is a dirty business. But, we've come to rely on it for our electricity.

I think that environmental groups should either i) work directly with coal companies to find ways of minimizing the environmental harm from mining (all the while understanding physical realities dictate that "minimize" cannot mean "eliminate"), ii) work on reducing electricity demand, or iii) advocate for increased use of alternate electricity sources. I don't see how blaming the mining companies is not productive.
8.23.2007 6:21pm
An0n:
"unless you're planning to start living solely off the land first thing tomorrow morning, you had better be prepared to explain what the alternative is . . ."

I doubt even that's an alternative. I haven't exactly researched it, but I strongly suspect that if the entire population of this country were to start living solely off the land first thing tomorrow morning, the consequences would make the Plauges of Egypt look like fun by comparison.
8.23.2007 6:28pm
Francis (mail):
This is, in fact, a really hard issue.

Deep shaft mining, like what was going on in Utah, leaves a tremendous amount of coal in the ground. I've read estimates of 50%. Trying to get more coal out of a deep mine is incredibly dangerous, as you're essentially daring the mountain to drop on your head as you retreat-mine. You also still have plenty of non-productive tailings to deal with.

Surface mining concentrates a staggering amount of environmental damage in a very small place, but allows for much more total energy to be obtained from each coal seam.

So, as a society we're faced with some tricky questions. Is strip mining sufficiently valuable that it should be permitted? Answer: yes.

Once mining is finished, should the site be more or less rehabilitated? Answer: yes, but there's lots of room to argue about the scope of reclamation plans.

And while mining is ongoing, what do you do with the tailings? Answer: hard question. Moving tailings is expensive and non-productive, so you want to do it as little as possible, but piling them loosely into rivers and valleys is likely to have serious adverse consequences down stream.
8.23.2007 6:44pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Science doesn't reveal the best course of human actions.

Neither does the Bush administration, save by negative example.

Frankly, opposition to nuclear power mystifies me. "But the waste!" Yes, the eminently identifiable, localized, easily-stored waste, as opposed to the myriad particles wafting through the atmosphere. (Heat waste in rivers is a problem but not a particularly insoluble one.)
8.23.2007 7:00pm
jiffy trip:
When this earth is tired of us it will surely spit us out...

til then bottoms up !

http://b13thcentury.runboard.com
8.23.2007 9:54pm
Smokey:
Remember the incessant complaining when the price of gasoline went up 75 cents a gallon? Many of these very same complainers say they want to hobble mining to ''protect the environment.''

But there are two sides to every coin. If people want cheap electricity available whenever they flick the switch, then some mountaintops in West Virginia will get flatter. But if they want to pay a lot more for their electricity, they should quit beating around the bush and just say so. Whether the voters agree to the additional cost for electricity is the pertinent question.

The fact is that the U.S. is already one of the environmentally cleanest countries on earth. This isn't Pittsburgh in 1954, or the Cuyahoga river catching fire in the early '60's. 99% of industrial pollution has been eliminated from the environment since then.

But environmentalists almost universally turn a blind eye to truly polluted countries like China, which is currently building an average of two coal-fired power plants a week, and plans to continue at that rate through at least 2024 [source: the Economist].

The environmentally clean U.S. always gets the venom and finger wagging from every self-righteous, holier-than-thou environmental group, while China, Russia, India and a hundred smaller countries get a totally free pass from these same groups. Makes you wonder who's pulling the puppets' strings, doesn't it?

Want today's electricity prices along with today's very stringent anti-pollution standards? Or should we pay a lot more, for a very minor incremental change in regulation concerning one small part of one small state? That's the real question.
8.23.2007 9:55pm
Anonymouse (mail):

The environmentally clean U.S. always gets the venom and finger wagging from every self-righteous, holier-than-thou environmental group, while China, Russia, India and a hundred smaller countries get a totally free pass from these same groups.


I agree with Smokey. If all of these other countries are able to pollute the environement without criticism, we should be able to as well.
8.23.2007 10:05pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Surface mining concentrates a staggering amount of environmental damage in a very small place, but allows for much more total energy to be obtained from each coal seam.
Part of the problem is the very notion of environmental "damage." Change, yes. Perhaps aesthetically unpleasing change. Change which is harmful to certain species, certainly. But "damage"? What makes the status quo ante "healthy" and the resulting situation "damaged"?
8.24.2007 12:45am
Brian K (mail):
If all of these other countries are able to pollute the environement without criticism

This is a perfect example of only hearing what you want to hear and ignoring everything else.
8.24.2007 1:27am
Brian K (mail):
But "damage"? What makes the status quo ante "healthy" and the resulting situation "damaged"?

Let's use the terms "a little damaged" and "even more damaged" then. happy?

If something is already a little damaged, does that mean we can/should damage it even more? or try to fix the damage already caused? (hint: when you go to the doctor because you're sick does he say "since you're already sick you might as well drink this bucket of bleach" or does he say "take 2 of these and you'll feel better by tomorrow"?)
8.24.2007 1:39am
subpatre (mail):

"Here we think of it as land reclamation. We're bringing the landscape back to its original God-created condition, a topography free of those awful, craggy, unsightly, inhospitable-to-man-and-beast mountains that encroached upon our previously pristine region through volcanic upheavel brought on by the planet's Paleozoic Era. We're assisting Mother Nature in the healing of a ghastly wound."

"See? Two can play this game." —Jerry Fuhrman
8.24.2007 1:53am
Fub:
Smokey wrote at 8.23.2007 8:55pm:
But there are two sides to every coin. If people want cheap electricity available whenever they flick the switch, then some mountaintops in West Virginia will get flatter. But if they want to pay a lot more for their electricity, they should quit beating around the bush and just say so. Whether the voters agree to the additional cost for electricity is the pertinent question.

The fact is that the U.S. is already one of the environmentally cleanest countries on earth. This isn't Pittsburgh in 1954, or the Cuyahoga river catching fire in the early '60's. 99% of industrial pollution has been eliminated from the environment since then.
My previous joking about faith based environmental policy aside, I agree that this is true.

As Francis wrote at 8.23.2007 5:44pm:
This is, in fact, a really hard issue.
The internal incoherence in the outcomes desired by each interest involved (for simplicity government, environmentalists, and industry) muddles the issue even more.

Environmentalists can't realistically expect both cheap energy and regulation that destroys profitability.

Industry can't expect both profitability and no responsibility for damage done to other property owners' interests.

Government can't expect indefinite popular support for policy if it allows industry to wreck too much of ordinary peoples' environmental interests, or if it destroys the industry.

And energy demand is not going to go away. So the optimal outcome, even assuming good faith on the part of each major interest, might be better defined as the least bad outcome.
8.24.2007 3:29am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Let's use the terms "a little damaged" and "even more damaged" then. happy?
Not in the least. You completely missed my point.
If something is already a little damaged, does that mean we can/should damage it even more? or try to fix the damage already caused? (hint: when you go to the doctor because you're sick does he say "since you're already sick you might as well drink this bucket of bleach" or does he say "take 2 of these and you'll feel better by tomorrow"?)
The point I was making, which you missed, was, "What's 'damaged' about either situation?"

Neither me wearing a blue shirt to the doctor's office nor a red shirt to the doctor's office is "damage." Neither having a bunch of dirt and rocks here nor having a bunch of dirt and rocks there is "damage."
8.24.2007 5:32am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"Neither having a bunch of dirt and rocks here nor having a bunch of dirt and rocks there is 'damage.'"

Hell, then just dump it all in the Grand Canyon.
8.24.2007 8:54am
Brian K (mail):
Neither having a bunch of dirt and rocks here nor having a bunch of dirt and rocks there is "damage."

so the location of the rocks is irrelevant? if we were to stack them on your house would that be considered "damage"? What if we were to completely destroy an entire ecosystem? i can't possible see how that can't be considered as damaging.

one of the several different definitions of damage is "the occurrence of a change for the worse". so yes, completely blocking a stream or destroying some critical habitat or etc is "damage"
8.24.2007 1:06pm
Ian Wilker (mail) (www):
Mountaintop removal mining truly sets my teeth on edge. Essentially, the mining company that practices it maximizing its profit in the very short term (there are other ways to get the coal out of the ground), at outrageous expense to everyone else. It destroys billion-year-old landscapes that have touristic value (and greater potential), and leaves surrounding communities -- generally very poor to begin with -- with land that has no economic value whatsoever. "Mitigation" is a joke.

Heather Taylor's blog on NRDC's Switchboard site has a good piece on this latest news. Here are two background must-reads from OnEarth Magazine on the subject.
8.24.2007 5:53pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Beides tourism, what is the greater potential?
8.24.2007 6:27pm
subpatre (mail):
Including tourism, what's the greater potential?

The people who live with and in these mountains see the anti-mining eco-freaks as a thin cover for blocking economic parity: Hillbillies have to remain poor so that —once a year or so— some eco-concious urban rat can drive through in rapture.

There's more than a grain of truth to that. Slopes add to construction costs, destroying the margin of profit for commercial buildings —from big-box to small medical malls. When the area's been leveled, after in peak mining, then it's viable for commercial building.

Some areas of WV have enjoyed a lot of (relative) prosperity due to level areas left by mining. As to the first question, tourism doesn't add enough to spit with.
8.24.2007 9:52pm