Moutaintop Mining Update II: The unstoppable force steps closer to the immovable object


There was further news last week concerning the fearsome batttle over the federal 404 permitting of mountaintop removal (MTR).  As closely followed by the Charleston Gazette’s indispensable MTR blog, Coal Tattoo, the EPA has notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and “elevated” the consideration of 79 permits to mine coal by removing the overburden and placing it into 179 miles of adjacent valleys and streams.  As previously noted on the RS blog, this is a titanic battle — with a very uncertain ending — between powerful political and business forces.  And it all comes down to….you guessed it: mitigation.

The Army Corps now has 60 days to respond to the concerns of the EPA.  The letter from EPA addresses mitigation specifically, and challenges the adequacy of the proposed compensation:

4. Mitigation — Headwater streams are vital components of watersheds. They provide critical ecological functions necessary for the health and productivity of downstream systems. EPA believes additional evaluation of the 79 permits is needed “to assess the effectiveness of existing mitigation plans to compensate for anticipated loss of  functions associated with the proposed mining-related burial and mine through of headwater streams.”

RS is not a practitioner of the type of mitigation typically performed to compensate for MTR — on-site “Creation.”  Our firm almost exclusively performs off-site “Restoration” of resources to meet No-Net-Loss mandates.  However, there are very few opportunities to restore streams in coal country.  The mountain landscape seems to come in two conditions:  Either relatively intact forested mountains — or moonscapes after the montain has been “flipped” for the coal. As a result,There is very little to be restored in the immediate watersheds in order to compensate for the mining losses.

That’s all for now.  In future blogs on the subject, however, I plan to  address: 1) the misleading information put out by some scientists who are fighting mountaintop mining with such fervor they fail to distinguish stream “creation” in reclaimed mine spoil, from highly beneficial mitigation practices such as restoration based Natural Channel Design projects.  And, 2) alternative mitigation strategies for this unique impact, such as preservation coupled with out-of-basin improvements.