A Million Points of Light: At Any Price

Calling for no conservation measures that might obviate the mandate for ever more coal use into the foreseeable future, this abrogation of the “Stream Buffer Zone Rule” gives Big Coal access to anything it wants, any way it wants to get it. We can carry on with our profligate use of electricity as if West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee did not exist. This is unconscionable. It is the Bush way. History will never forget him. His legacy will be written in the very mountains by their absence. (Emphasis below is mine.)

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 – The Bush administration is set to issue a regulation on Friday that would enshrine the coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. The technique involves blasting off the tops of mountains and dumping the rubble into valleys and streams.

It has been used in Appalachian coal country for 20 years under a cloud of legal and regulatory confusion.

The new rule would allow the practice to continue and expand, providing only that mine operators minimize the debris and cause the least environmental harm, although those terms are not clearly defined and to some extent merely restate existing law.

The Office of Surface Mining in the Interior Department drafted the rule, which will be subject to a 60-day comment period and could be revised, although officials indicated that it was not likely to be changed substantially.

The regulation is the culmination of six and a half years of work by the administration to make it easier for mining companies to dig more coal to meet growing energy demands and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

… A spokesman for the National Mining Association, Luke Popovich, said that unless mine owners were allowed to dump mine waste in streams and valleys it would be impossible to operate in mountainous regions like West Virginia that hold some of the richest low-sulfur coal seams.

All mining generates huge volumes of waste, known as excess spoil or overburden, and it has to go somewhere. For years, it has been trucked away and dumped in remote hollows of Appalachia.

This is a parting gift to the coal industry from this administration,” said Joe Lovett, executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment in Lewisburg, W.Va. “What is at stake is the future of Appalachia. This is an attempt to make legal what has long been illegal.”

…If current practices continue, another 724 river miles will be buried by 2018, the report says.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. i’ve bombarded the white house with e-mails about this this week….i’m sure none got read.

    it’s devastating and it leaves me broken-hearted…..

    thanks for being a voice out there for the mountains, fred……

  2. oh….and i sent several e-mails to the office of surface mining in the interior dept. today. their touts of all the reclamation that the coal companies are doing are such a joke…..i can’t believe they can put all that misinfo out there. all one has to do is go see a ‘reclaimed’ site and they’ll know it’s a bunch of b.s.

    i don’t get angry very often, but mountaintop removal makes me fume!!!

  3. fred…..they have this ruling open for public comment for a month. the Office of Interior has it set up where it’s almost impossible to navigate to the page to comment on the ruling, but it IS possible.

    go here: http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main

    and the easiest way i found was under the ‘search documents’ section’, search under ‘Federal Dept. or Agency’ and look for “Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement”. Then click on Docket ID OSM-2007-0007 .

    The Document ID is OSM-2007-0007-0001. And the document title is ‘Excess Spoil, Coal Mine Waste, and Buffers for Waters of the United States’ .

    When I searched via the title and ID number, nothing comes up….hmmmm! so i had to do it this other way.