Latest Front along President’s War on Appalachian Coal: Jobs for Minnows

by William Yeatman on August 16, 2011

in Blog

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I’ve written a number of posts, opeds, and a study about the Environmental Protection Agency’s outrageous assault on surface coal mining in Appalachia. Simply put, the EPA is destroying an industry that employs 15,000 miners, on behalf a short-lived insect.  In order to placate the President’s environmentalist base, the EPA is trading jobs for bugs.

Last Tuesday, the Obama administration launched its latest assault against Appalachian surface coal mining. This one comes from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and it is best described as ‘jobs for minnows.’

To be precise, the FWS issued a final rulemaking to list five species of minnows as “endangered” under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). Two of the five tiny fish, the Cumberland darter and laurel darce, are present in small streams in the Cumberland Plateau region that are affected by effluent from surface coal mining. Once a species is listed as “endangered” pursuant to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, all federal agencies “shall…insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency…is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of [critical] habitat of such species…”

The FWS identified three “pollutants” from surface coal mines that endanger these species: sedimentation, salinity, and selenium. All three of these “pollutants” already are regulated by the Clean Water Act at levels necessary to protect wildlife. In June, the EPA set standards for salinity so low that Administrator Lisa Jackson has conceded the regulation would effectively outlaw surface coal mining in Appalachia. The FWS’s decision to list as “endangered” the Cumberland darter and laurel darce is indicative of this administration’s belt-and-suspenders approach to regulation. In its war on coal, the President is leaving nothing to chance.

To understand how the Endangered Species Act applies in practice, consider the following hypothetical scenario. Let’s pretend that a coal company in Campbell County, Tennessee, applies for a SMCRA permit (i.e., a permit necessary to accord with the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act)  to open a new mine, and thereby create 200 jobs. In times past, the permit would get approved if it was up to specs, and the jobs would be created (assuming all the other variances were acquired). Not anymore! Now, the Department of the Interior couldn’t approve that permit, because it might hurt a species of minnow*.

Perhaps these hypothetical human beings, whose livelihoods were deemed less important than the welfare of minnows, would take solace in the fact that they could have been forsaken by wildlife even lower on the food chain than a two-inch fish. In Logan County, West Virginia, hundreds of miners are not working at the Spruce No. 1 Mine, due to the harm they posed to a short-lived insect.

*Full disclosure: Normally, I don’t care about minnows. But when it boils down to minnows vs. human livelihoods, I’m so pro-human that I’m anti-minnow. If some rare species is extinguished in a remote Appalachian corner by saline effluent from a mining operation that created jobs, I’m not losing any sleep. This confession probably makes environmentalists think I’m callous. This doesn’t bother me.

Robert Of Ottawa August 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm

I have trouble even reading stories like this any more. The EPA is a riminal organation run by hippies and socoialists who hate. I hope to see ad boards with photos of shut down mines and wells, and nemployment queues, with the slogan”Obama did this”

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