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EPA to Conduct Full Reviews of Stalled Mountaintop Mining Permits

As Kate pointed out a few weeks back, the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month stalled 79 applications for new surface mines in the Appalachian Mountains, citing concerns that those operations would harm local water quality. Today, the agency went a step further, announcing in a letter to the U.S. Corps of Engineers that all 79 permits will be subject to more thorough review. From EPA’s statement, via Ken Ward Jr. at The Charleston Gazette:

EPA’s letter today confirms that all 79 permits initially identified on September 11 must undergo additional evaluation by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. EPA’s final list was transmitted in a letter to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. The 79 permits represent all of the backlogged surface coal mining projects under review by the Army Corps of Engineers.* *After a careful evaluation of these surface coal mining projects, EPA determined that each of them, as currently proposed, is likely to result in significant harm to water quality and the environment and are therefore not consistent with requirements of the [Clean Water Act].

As Ward points out, this doesn’t mean that the 79 projects will be rejected. But they could be altered if the EPA — which has been a more aggressive environmental watchdog under this administration than under the last — determines that they do indeed violate the Clean Water Act.

Environmental groups were quick to applaud the decision. Mary Anne Hitt, deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, issued a statement saying the further review “will surely prove that this most destructive form of coal mining is incompatible with clean water.”

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