Mountaintop removal—the aptly-named mining practice that blasts away peaks and leaves piles of rubble—must stop, a group of researchers write this week in the journal Science. Taking an unusually political stance, a group of hydrologists, engineers and ecologists called for an immediate end to the practice.
“Until somebody can show that the water [that runs off mine sites] can be cleaned up . . . this has got to be stopped,’’ said Margaret Palmer, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science who is the study’s lead author. For now, Palmer said, “there is no evidence that things like this can be fixed” [Boston Globe]. The researchers contend that mountaintop removal destroys forests in the Appalachians and taints water through toxic runoff.
Mining companies have responded that mountaintop removal is better and safer than deep-shaft mining. And to the surprise of no one, they went on the offensive against the scientists’ paper. National Mining Association spokeswoman Carol Raulston also argues the scientists chose data selectively, ignoring water-quality information that didn’t support its theories. While they’re entitled to their opinion, she said, “they’re incorrect in saying this review of the literature points to any new conclusions” [ABC News].
While the scientists called on the Obama administration to halt all permits on mountaintop mining, the Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t gone quite that far. In September the agency put a hold on 79 new projects pending further review, but this week it approved one of those in West Virginia. The EPA doesn’t seem like it’s going to hold all the rest back, either, especially given the political touchiness involved. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “Our role … is to ensure that mining companies avoid environmental degradation and protect water quality so that Appalachian communities don’t have to choose between jobs and their health. Our goal is to ensure Americans living in coal country are protected from environmental, health and economic damage” [Reuters].