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Coal Industry Reacts to EPA Crackdown on Mountaintop Removal Mining with Lies about Job Losses

Studies show that mountaintop removal mining isn't good for the local economy as the coal industry purports. Here's the facts.

If you're a reader of AlterNet's environment coverage then you are almost certainly aware that the Obama Administration signaled a major shift in how mountaintop removal coal mining will be regulated. In brief, Obama's head of the EPA, announced a decision to delay and review permits for two mountaintop removal mining operations, an action that calls into question more than 100 additional valley fill permits now pending that threaten to bury hundreds more miles of headwater streams and destroy dozens more Appalachian Mountains.


In making this decision, President Obama also took another step in fulfilling his campaign promise to bring science back to it's rightful place in guiding the decisions of federal agencies. Over the course of eight years, the Bush Administration ignored the advice and analysis of the best scientists and systematically re-wrote the rules to allow companies to dump mine waste indiscriminately into streams. They also sought to allow higher levels of arsenic, selenium and other toxic metals from mine runoff in drinking water.

Realizing that Bush's policies were wrong from the start, the coal industry and supporters in Congress quickly and conveniently rolled over and died.


Actually, the blow-back was immediate and fierce from the mining industry. Here's the response of the National Mining Association:

This action, which applies to all mining-related 404 permits in the region, puts thousands of mining jobs and coal production in Appalachia at risk. While on the one hand the administration is spending billions in stimulus jobs, it is taking away the highest paying jobs in the region by delaying needed permit approvals. This is not good for jobs or for energy security.

All of this pressure appeared to elicit an immediate backpedaling by the EPA, which issued a statement last night that seemed to contradict the early media reports. Moreover, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin quickly took to grandstanding and went straight to Washington today to talk with Administration officials about impacts on West Virginia's economy.

All of these conflicting reports have left opponents of mountaintop removal with a little whiplash, but they should not be distressed. There is no question that the EPA's move signaled a seismic shift from the Bush Administration's lax enforcement of environmental laws, and the back-pedaling doesn't change the fact that EPA is going to bring actual science back into the permitting process.

One of the most valuable aspects of all of this is that we now have a very complete picture of the coal industry's justification for why Obama should allow the destruction of the nation's oldest and most biologically diverse mountains, and the pollution of the headwaters of many eastern rivers to continue under the Bush Administration's rules. Here's their reasoning:

14,000 mining jobs are at risk.

The savvy reader will probably be thinking: "14,000 jobs? Didn't the auto industry just layoff 100,000 employees? You're telling me that we are turning the oldest mountains in America into a parking lot for the sake of 14,000 jobs?"

On the surface, this would certainly be a justifiable reaction. The numbers are miniscule compared to the total number of jobs in the region and the numbers we've been hearing about mass layoffs across the country over the past 6 months. According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Employers took 2,769 mass layoff actions in February that resulted in the separation of 295,477 workers, seasonally adjusted, as measured by new filings for unemployment insurance benefits.

But this misses a number of important points. In defense of the mining industry, 14,000 fairly high paying jobs mean a lot in this region, which is among the poorest in the country and already suffers rampant unemployment.

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