From: Scott Finn, NPR
Published April 1, 2009 09:18 AM

New EPA Review Prompts Anxiety Over Mining Jobs

A federal judge in West Virginia issued a ruling Tuesday that dealt another blow to the controversial mining practice known as mountaintop removal.

The process involves blasting away the tops of mountains to expose coal seams underneath. The resulting tons of rock and dirt are typically dumped into valleys and streams.

U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin in Charleston blocked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from issuing so-called "nationwide" permits, which streamline the process of getting permission to mine. Goodwin also ruled that more detailed plans for each individual mine must be submitted before permits are approved.

The court's decision comes as the Obama administration is promising change in federal policy on mountaintop removal mining. That has coalfield residents gearing up for a fight.

Environmentalists, miners and industry officials are all trying to figure out what the administration's promised change will mean.


Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency issued letters raising "serious concerns" about two proposed permits for mountaintop removal mines in Kentucky and West Virginia. This sort of questioning was unheard of during the Bush administration, according to both supporters and opponents of the practice.

A Question Of Clean Water

Water is at the heart of a recent EPA challenge of the two proposed mining permits.

One of the proposed sites is just a few miles from Blair, W.Va. In the 1920s, the area was the site of the Battle of Blair Mountain, when thousands of armed coal workers seeking to unionize clashed with Logan County law enforcement.

Blair Mountain was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. But that may not save it from future surface mining.

Dozens of families used to live in Blair. Now, just a few are left. The coal company has bought most of them out.

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