Mining industry representatives are attacking research by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) underpinning the movement to ban the practice of “mountaintop mining,” in which heavy explosives are used to access coal seams in the Appalachian region.
A new study commissioned by the National Mining Association released Thursday represents a more forceful, full-fledged assault by the industry on a key EPA study cited by the agency in recent moves to strictly regulate the practice.
At issue is the extent to which rainwater runoff hits debris leftover by mountaintop mining and then pollutes nearby rivers and streams.
Environmentalists and local activists in Appalachia have long sought to ban the practice, focusing on the blight of whole mountaintops removed in the pursuit of coal. But the legal issues before EPA bureaucrats primarily involve water pollution issues related to the practice, which is permitted under federal mining law.
Meanwhile, given the dismal economy, the issue remains especially sensitive for politicians in Appalachia, particularly in West Virginia, where the economic impact of strictly regulating mining practices is more keenly felt by workers in that industry.
The study released Thursday by the National Mining Association (NMA), a powerful trade association representing the mining industry, argues EPA researchers in West Virginia did not prove environmental harm was caused by mountaintop mining and relied on the study of too few organisms.
The EPA study primarily studied the impact of mountaintop mining on a type of mayfly.
The NMA’s research is important because it could play a role in possible litigation regarding strict EPA regulations of mountaintop mining. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, the EPA and other federal agencies must prove their regulations are not “arbitrary and capricious.”
The EPA research at issue in the debate is a key part of guidance issued by the agency in April that will allow far fewer mountaintop mining projects to go forward. Industry representatives and other groups with a stake in the debate have until Dec. 1 to offer their comment to EPA on the guidance.
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has relied on inaccurate and unreliable data to set inappropriate and unlawful water quality standards in violation of the agency’s methodology criteria and numerous federal laws,” a spokesman for the NMA said Thursday.
Besides the substantive debate over the issue, the NMA’s full-fledged attack on the issue represents a shift by industry to go on offense politically. In recent months, five large banks have enacted policies restricting whether those banks will loan money to companies for the purpose of mountaintop mining projects.
Unlike other priorities of environmentalists, like cap-and-trade legislation, efforts to strictly regulate mountaintop mining have been far more successful, with the EPA in April issuing its strict guidance on the issue.
Still, environmentalists have expressed dissatisfaction that the Obama administration did not quickly move to ban the practice outright.