New EPA restrictions on mountaintop mining are leaving both environmentalists and the coal industry frustrated. Activists on both sides say the agency hasn't been clear about what criteria it is using for the restrictions, and has approved some mines while denying others, while not clarifying what the difference is between the "good" mines and "bad" mines.
The mountain-top mining removal is a horrific practice, in which the peaks of mountains in Appalachia are blasted off to access coal, and valleys are then filled with the resulting debris. The method has been proven to be significantly harmful to the environment. By law, the coal companies are required to rebuild the mountains. However, debris is usually left in nearby valleys, and when rainwater runs over the rock that had previously been far underground, it can release toxic metals, which can destroy the life in Appalachian streams and cause significant health problems for people who drink the water. Environmentalists condemn the mining and are angry that while the Obama administration called for its end, the EPA has analyzed about 175 proposed mines and still signed off on almost 50 of the mines.
The coal industry has argued that restricting the mining will harm the Appalachian economy.
Last week environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and CEO of Massey Coal Don Blankenship contentiously argued the issue. Massey Coal is the fourth largest producer of coal in the United States and the largest in Appalachia.
Kennedy called the mining a "sin" that damages the Appalachian ecosystem and helps only a few people get rich. Blankenship responded that the environmentalists are trying to attack the "people who are teaching your Sunday schools and coaching your Little League."
The debate in West Virginia over this issue is so contentious, that city officials stationed 40 uniformed police officers at the event. Although they encountered no serious trouble, an October Federal featured parties shouting each other down and threatening one another.
On Monday, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin III issued an appeal for an end to intimidation of people fighting mountaintop mining. "We will not in any way, shape or form in this state of West Virginia tolerate any violence against anyone on any side. If you're going to have the dialogue, have respect for each other."
However, at a march last year, a woman in coal-mining gear stepped past guards and slapped local environmental activist Julia Bonds. "They don't seem to understand the difference between nonviolence and violence," Bonds said.