Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tightened water-quality standards for Appalachian streams affected by mountaintop mining. The new standards would likely curtail many future permits filed by the coal industry.
The surface mining technique of mountaintop removal, uses explosives to blast off large volumes of rock, generating piles of waste that bury nearby streams.
Peer-reviewed studies have shown that the unused dirt and rock, which is dumped into valleys and streams can significantly compromise water quality, often causing permanent damage to ecosystems and rendering streams unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking.
“The people of Appalachia shouldn’t have to choose between a clean, healthy environment in which to raise their families and the jobs they need to support them,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
It is estimated that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining, a practice which accounts for about 11% of total U.S. coal production.
The new guidance on mining permits issued under the Clean Water Act takes effect immediately and requires companies who apply for new permits to show their operations won’t increase stream salinity beyond tightened limits — a measurement of about 3-5 times the salinity of streams in the un-mined regions. The EPA estimates the new benchmark would protect 95 percent of aquatic organisms living in streams in central Appalachia.
The new standard could endanger many of the 27,000 jobs produced by surface coal mines in Appalachia.
EPA will solicit public comments on the new guidance and decide whether to modify the guidance after consideration of public comments.