After two years, the federal government has released new guidelines for surface coal mines. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would increase scrutiny on a number of mountaintop removal permits in Appalachia and would release guidelines for future permits.Those guidelines were released last week. Mine operators will now find it much harder to get permits for valley fills—where valleys and streams are filled with debris from mining.
For two years, the coal industry has criticized the Environmental Protection Agency for creating a climate of uncertainty in the coalfields, as the agency changed its rules for permitting mining operations.
But now the final guidelines have been released, and the industry is not enthusiastic. Bill Bissett is the president of the Kentucky Coal Association.
“More information is always good and dialogue needs to happen, but that dialogue is just not occurring here,” he said. “It’s far more a dictate with the states than any kind of dialogue. And that’s very concerning.”
Bissett says this rule is another example of the EPA doing more than its Congressional mandate allows.
“It further reduces the role of Kentucky being able to be making decisions for Kentucky,” he said. “And sort of has this overreach yet again of the EPA, when this should be really involved in more of a state process than a federal process.”
A statement released by the EPA stresses the importance of the rules to water quality near mountaintop removal sites. It also mentions possible links between health problems and surface mining sites.