June 1, 2009

Politics and environmentalism

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney

The LA Times reports that environmentalists are upset with the Obama administration's apparent retreat from its campaign promise to give close review to coal mining permits, especially permits entailing mountaintop mining.  The environmental community has long objected to mountaintop mining, which basically entails the partial obliteration of hilltops.  Interestingly, the Obama EPA has nevertheless approved 42 of 48 coal mining permits, including two dozen requiring mountaintop removals.

It was a big disappointment," said Joan Mulhern, a lawyer for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm that has led court challenges to mountaintop removal. "It's disturbing and surprising that this administration, headed by a president who has expressed concern about mountaintop removal, would let such a large number of permits go forward without explanation."

Mulhern charged that the EPA "blew off" Jackson's earlier promises that the agency would adhere to science and would conduct an open process.

Ed Hopkins, a top Sierra Club official, said some of the projects that have now obtained the EPA's blessing "are as large and potentially destructive as the ones they objected to."

"It makes us wonder what standards — if any — the administration is using," Hopkins said.

It's not surprising, really, that one of the leading Congressional exponents for mining is Nick Rahall, Democratic representative from West Virginia, where coal mining is a major source of employment.  Rep. Rahall is normally a strong ally of environmentalists, and was a vociferous critic of the Bush administration's enforcement of the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts.  Yet, on this issue, the West Virginia Democrat has parted company with the greens.

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