Appalachia

Post image for Obama Administration take note: Quebec decides to develop its natural resources

Quebec, long an economic basket case kept afloat by Canada’s federal government, has decided to open up its northern interior to resource development.  Quebec Premier Jean Charest announced on Monday an ambitious 25-year “Plan Nord” to build highways, airports, and other infrastructure so that the area can be developed.

According to Montreal’s Gazette, “Investments in energy development, mining, forestry, transportation, and tourism in the 1.2-million-square-kilometre region – twice the size of France – will create 20,000 jobs a year, generating $162 billion in growth and tax revenues of $14 billion.”   Large parts of northern Quebec are heavily forested, and there are major deposits of iron, nickel, gold, platinum, cobalt, zinc, vanadium, and rare earths.

The Obama Administration should follow Quebec’s good example.  The Department of the Interior and the U. S. Forest Service (an agency of the U. S. Department of Agriculture) control nearly 30% of the land in the United States, most of it in the West and Alaska, plus the Outer Continental Shelf.  Federal lands and offshore areas contain colossal reserves of energy and minerals plus the most productive forests in the world.  But the Obama Administration is locking up more and more federal lands and offshore areas in order to prevent oil and gas production, hardrock mining, and timber production.  And they’re trying to block coal mining in Appalachia by inventing new pollutants to be regulated.

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Post image for This Week in the Congress

On Thursday, the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee held a hearing on “Environmental Protection Agency Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachia.” Video and written testimony are available here. For detailed descriptions of the EPA’s outrageous war on Appalachian coal production, click here, here, or here. Suffice it to say, EPA has subverted the Administrative Procedures Act to enact a de facto moratorium on mining. It engineered a new Clean Water Act “pollutant,” saline effluent, which the EPA claims degrades water quality downstream from mines by harming a short lived insect that isn’t an endangered species. The hearing yesterday was part 1; next Wednesday, the subcommittee is scheduled to hear from EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

It was a bipartisan bashing. The only Democrat to show up was Ranking Member Rep. Nick Rahall (WV), whose opposition to the EPA exceeds that of Republicans, due to the fact that his State is the largest coal producer in Appalachia, and is, therefore, harmed most.

For the “Part 1” hearing on Thursday, the primary topic was the EPA’s procedural shenanigans. For part two next week, with Administrator Lisa Jackson, I very much hope they address the EPA’s shoddy science on the ecological impact of mountaintop mining.

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Post image for Update: EPA’s War on Appalachian Coal

I’ve been an outspoken opponent of the EPA’s war on Appalachian coal production. See here, here, here, and here.

In particular, I’ve sought to shine a spotlight on the EPA’s outrageous crackdown on saline effluent from surface coal mines. The EPA argues that this salty discharge is an illegal violation of the Clean Water Act, because it harms an order of short-lived insects known as the mayfly. The science suggests that the total number of insect species doesn’t decrease downstream of surface mines, as hardier insects readily assume the niche vacated by the mayfly. Nonetheless, the EPA alleges that the loss of the mayfly alone is sufficient to violate the Clean Water Act’s narrative (qualitative) water quality standards. The mayfly is not an endangered species.

A year ago, the EPA issued guidance for quantitative salinity water quality standards, effective immediately. According to one mining engineer, they set the bar so low that you couldn’t wash a parking lot without violating the Clean Water Act. Remember, the President had campaigned on a promise to “bankrupt” coal; this was the fruition of that promise. Even EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson conceded that new surface coal mine permits in Appalachia were unlikely under the terms of the April guidance.

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Update on the States

by William Yeatman on March 14, 2011

Post image for Update on the States

Minnesota

In 2007, then-Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) championed and ultimately signed the Next Generation Act, which effectively imposed a moratorium on coal-fired power plants in the State. Evidently, the legislature is having second thoughts about a future without coal, because last week both the House and the Senate moved legislation that would overturn the coal ban. By a 15 to 6 vote, the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committee passed H.F. 72, “A bill for an act relating to energy; removing ban on increased carbon dioxide emissions by utilities.” The Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications passed a companion bill, by a 9 to 3 vote.

West Virginia

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a section 404 Clean Water Act permit to a Massey Coal subsidiary for the Reylas Surface Mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The permit was originally issued in 2007, but it became ensnared in the Obama Administration’s war on Appalachian coal (click here or here for more information on that subject). In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended against granting the permit, so there is a good chance that the EPA will veto this permit. In January, the EPA exercised this authority for the first time in the history of the Clean Water Act in order to veto the Spruce No. 1 mine, which is also in Logan County. Notably, the EPA objects to these mines because they allegedly harm an insect that isn’t an endangered species. But before the EPA could act, environmentalist lawyers won an injunction in a West Virginia federal court.

Last week Tim Huber of the Associated Press broke news on yet another front being opened in Obama’s war on Appalachian surface coal mining (I blogged about the other front yesterday).

The AP story pertained to a controversial rule derivative of the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), known as the “100 feet buffer rule. As its name would suggest, it basically prohibits mining waste from being deposited within 100 feet of intermittent or perennial streams. According to the AP article, the Obama Administration’s preferred interpretation of this rule would cost 7,000 mining jobs, almost exclusively in Appalachia. And that’s the Department of the Interior’s own estimate, which is likely a lowball.

Background: The 100 feet buffer rule was largely ignored until the 1990s, when environmentalists initiated lawsuits alleging that valley fills constitute mine waste, and are therefore in violation of the buffer rule.

[Valley fills are a necessary byproduct of surface mining in the steep terrain of Appalachia. When you dig up coal, the loosened dirt and rock, known as overburden, have more volume than when they were compacted. Much of this overburden is used to reconstruct the approximate original contour of the mined terrain. However, there is almost always “extra” overburden, and this excess dirt and rock is placed in the valley at the base of the mine. This is known as a valley fill]

The problem with the environmentalists’ reasoning is that SMCRA clearly “contemplates that valley fills will be used in the disposal process,” to quote the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. So it doesn’t make sense that the law would both authorize and prohibit the same practice. President George W. Bush put the issue to rest in his second term. His Department of the Interior undertook a formal rule-making to exclude valley fills from the 100 feet buffer rule.

President Barack Obama, however, had campaigned on a promise to “bankrupt” the coal industry, and shortly after assuming office, he had the Department of the Interior try to reverse the Bush rule change, and thereby subject the Appalachian coal industry to an army of environmental lawyers. But a federal court slapped down this effort, because the Interior Department had tried to impose the rule change without a formal rulemaking. Thus rebuffed, the administration promised to revisit the issue within two years, and instead used a different tack to inhibit Appalachian coal production.

Which brings us to the AP story. Evidently, the Obama administration has been working on a new version of the 100 feet buffer rule, and their preferred choice is a doozy. According to the AP,

The office, a branch of the Interior Department, estimated that the protections would trim coal production to the point that an estimated 7,000 of the nation’s 80,600 coal mining jobs would be lost. Production would decrease or stay flat in 22 states, but climb 15 percent in North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.

As Appalachia is the only region where valley fills are used frequently in coal mining, it stands to lose the most. Then again, that’s the point. This would be the second major business-crushing regulation tailor made for Appalachian coal country (to learn more about the first, click here and here).