Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mining Companies Hit Wall on Mountaintop Blasting

The Wall Street Journal - WHITESVILLE, W.Va.—The coal-mining industry is trying to regroup in the wake of a move by the Obama administration to curtail mountaintop mining to extract coal.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency said it was holding up 79 permit applications for mining projects in Central Appalachia due to concerns the projects would damage water quality in nearby streams and violate the Clean Water Act. Another 180 applications are pending.

The companies can resubmit the applications, but uncertainty around permit approval makes planning risky.

"They're trying to find a way to kill us a little bit at a time—death by a thousand cuts," said Michael Snelling, head of surface operations for Richmond, Va.,-based Massey Energy Co., which had five permits delayed by the EPA last week. Mr. Snelling said EPA requirements to protect streams might be too burdensome for other projects.

Mountaintop mining involves blasting off the tops and dumping unused rock and dirt into valleys and streams.

The EPA has long had oversight authority over permits that relate to mining's impact on waterways but has challenged few of them--until this year.

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