Thursday is Earth Day!

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a guidance designed to strengthen requirements for Appalachian mountaintop removal and other surface coal mining projects.

The agency’s stated goal is prevention of significant and irreversible damage to Appalachian watersheds at risk from mining activity.

It’s too little, too late. The practice of mountaintop removal to access eco-filthy coal must be banned altogether.

Waste & Water Quality

Even the EPA admits that a growing body of scientific literature shows significant damage to local streams that are polluted with runoff from mountaintop removal.

As the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) notes:

“Just one mountaintop removal mine can lay bare up to 10 square miles and pour hundreds of millions of tons of waste material into as many as a dozen ‘valley fills’—some of which are 1,000 feet wide and a mile long.”

This waste can significantly compromise water quality, often causing permanent damage to ecosystems and rendering streams unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking. It’s estimated that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining.

Salt Levels Kill Fish

A new EPA report establishes a scientific benchmark for unacceptable levels of conductivity (a measure of water pollution from mining practices). The EPA says its new parameters are intended to protect 95% of aquatic life and freshwater streams in central Appalachia.

And the other 5% (assuming the EPA is even close to being right)? 

Runoff from dumped mining materials raises salinity level, turning fresh water into salty water. When this happens, living organisms must struggle to survive.

As with any federal guidance, EPA will solicit public comments; however, the guidance will be effective immediately on an interim basis. EPA will decide whether to modify the guidance after consideration of public comments and further technical review.

How You Can Help 

Please sign the NRDC’s petition, which asks Congress to pass the Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696). It would end mountaintop-removal mining and prevent coal companies from dumping waste into streams. 

The bill is also supported by the Sierra Club and Earthjustice—and, not surprisingly, opposed by the National Mining Association.

For Your Organic Bookshelf 

Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future

Photo: nrdc_media | Creative Commons