Despite the disappointing announcement yesterday that the Obama Administration is planning to expand offshore drilling, we have some good news from within the U.S. environmental movement! The EPA announced earlier today that it will be clarifying and strengthening existing permitting requirements for Appalachian mountaintop removal and other coal surface mining projects (click here to read the full press release). This is uplifting news for the people living in Appalachia and its surrounding communities!

Mountaintop removal is a devastating surface mining practice which uses explosives to blow off the tops of mountains to expose the coal seams buried deep within the rock. The resulting millions of tons of debris and rubble are then discarded into the surrounding environment; entire valleys, watersheds and ecosystems have been adversely affected or destroyed, drinking water for many communities has been compromised, and what was once a pristine mountain range is already scarred beyond repair.

Clearly, the EPA has noticed that mountaintop removal is a serious problem and a threat to human health and the environment. Their announcement today will encourage cooperation between state and federal agencies, and will require an added measure of guidance, clarity, transparency and scientific evaluation to the already existing permitting process.

Here is what EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had to say in the EPA press release this morning:

"The people of Appalachia shouldn't have to choose between a clean, healthy environment in which to raise their families and the jobs they need to support them. That’s why EPA is providing even greater clarity on the direction the agency is taking to confront pollution from mountain top removal. We will continue to work with all stakeholders to find a way forward that follows the science and the law. Getting this right is important to Americans who rely on affordable coal to power homes and businesses, as well as coal communities that count on jobs and a livable environment, both during mining and after coal companies move to other sites.”

Of course, we would much rather see an EPA decision to stop the permitting process for mountaintop removal altogether; no amount of jobs or energy production can justify a practice as destructive as this. However, we do feel that stricter guidelines enforced by the EPA will guarantee a higher level of safety and protection for communities and ecosystems located in Appalachia, and that is at least a step in the right direction.

If you want more information about mountaintop removal or want to get involved in your own way, please visit our partners at the Rainforest Action Network and the Alliance for Appalachia.

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