White House Review Delays EPA Mountaintop Removal Guidance

by Holly Doremus | April 05, 2011

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

EPA has announced that it will delay finalizing its guidance memorandum on Clean Water Act permitting for mountaintop removal mining projects pending review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. The announcement is bad news for Appalachian streams, and worse news for environmental interests hoping the Obama administration won’t completely cave to regulated interests.

The guidance was issued in interim form on April 1 of last year. EPA described the memorandum as clarifying how it would review requests for Clean Water Act permits in support of mountaintop removal mining and its expectations of state permitting agencies and the Corps of Engineers. Despite the date of the guidance, EPA wasn’t fooling. The guidance signaled  a new, more aggressive attitude toward EPA’s oversight role, an attitude associated with enhanced review of permit applications and even a rare veto of a permit that had been approved by the Corps.

Not surprisingly, the coal industry is fighting back in all available venues. It’s had some initial success in the courts and is working hard on the Congress, as I hope to explain in another post. This news, though, shows that the White House might turn out to be the easiest of targets.

Last year, EPA described the guidance memo as “interim,” but “effective immediately.” The agency invited public comments and promised to issue final guidance no later than April 1, 2011. That self-imposed ...

EPA Drops the Hammer on Mountaintop Removal

by Holly Doremus | April 01, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Last week, I reported on EPA’s proposed veto of a Clean Water Act section 404 permit for a major mountaintop removal coal mining project in West Virginia. My view at the time was something along the lines of two-and-a-half cheers. I wrote that it was very good news, but didn’t articulate principals for distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable mountaintop removal. Setting the proposed veto next to approval of the Hobet 45 project in January, EPA had ...

EPA Proposes to Veto Mountaintop Removal Project

by Holly Doremus | March 26, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. EPA’s seesaw on mountaintop removal mining continues. Last time I wrote about this topic it was to note EPA’s approval of the Hobet 45 project. Today, EPA announced that it is proposing to veto the Spruce No. 1 project, as it had threatened last fall. Should EPA follow through on its proposal, this would be its first veto of a Clean Water Act section 404 permit since 1990. Publication of the proposal in the Federal Register ...

On EPA Approval of the Hobet 45 Mountaintop Removal Permit

by Holly Doremus | January 12, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Last Monday, EPA signed off on the Corps of Engineers’ issuance of a Clean Water Act § 404 permit to Hobet Mining for a mountaintop removal coal mining project in West Virginia. The decision is important because it’s the first product of the process announced last fall for joint EPA / Corps review of a large number of pending permit applications. It’s troubling for several reasons. First and most simply, it allows a major mountaintop mining ...

Administration's Announcement on Mountaintop Removal Mining -- In Perspective

by Ben Somberg | November 19, 2009
"Interior increases oversight of mountaintop mining" trumpets the AP, and "U.S. boosts coal mining oversight to fight pollution" says Reuters. That's in response to an announcement from Interior on Wednesday. But on Coal Tattoo, and from NRDC and Sierra Club, one learns of a pretty different story. Says NRDC's Rob Perks: Why in the world would I have a problem with this? As I previously posted on the apparent "slow-walk" on this issue by the Interior Department, Interior Secretary Ken ...

Mountaintop Removal Review Moves to Next Stage

by Holly Doremus | October 02, 2009
(Cross-posted by permission from LegalPlanet) EPA finished September with a flourish. In addition to proposing New Source Review rules for greenhouse gas emissions and pushing for TSCA reform, the agency took the next step toward a crack-down on mountaintop removal. On September 11, EPA announced preliminary plans to review all 79 pending permit applications. This week, after considering public comment, it finalized that list, concluding that indeed all 79 require further review, based on concerns that the projects could more ...

Mountaintop Removal Update: EPA May Grow a Spine

by Holly Doremus | September 11, 2009
This item cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet. EPA today announced that it would review 79 pending applications for Clean Water Act section 404 permits for surface coal mining projects in Appalachia (hat tip: Coal Tattoo). This review is good news, and an indication that EPA may be developing a backbone with respect to the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the region’s waterways. It remains to be seen how firm that spine will be, that is, how much EPA ...

Court to Interior: Not So Fast on Rule Change

by Holly Doremus | August 17, 2009
This item cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet. In April, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked a federal court to vacate a last-minute Bush administration rule relaxing stream buffer zone requirements for dumping waste from mountaintop removal mining. Salazar said that the rule didn’t pass the smell test, and that it had been improperly issued without ESA consultation. Environmental groups which had challenged the rule welcomed Salazar’s announcement, but the National Mining Association, which had intervened in support of the rule, ...

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