Judging by the gnashing and wailing of coal miners and coal mine owners, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's decision to revoke a permit it had issued for mountaintop destruction to extract coal is an irresponsible deed. In their version, it heralds a wave of permit denials that will weaken American businesses and wreck the economy.
It is nothing of the sort.
It was, in fact, not only reasonable, it was the right thing to do. The EPA in this case recognized that the permit it earlier had granted to Arch Coal's Spruce Mine No. 1 near Blair, W. Va., was a mistake. Allowing the further removal of that particular mountain area would have caused devastating consequences to streams and rivers, to wildlife and its habitat and to mountain communities.
Revoking the permit was the responsible course for an agency that has, sadly, allowed far too much mountaintop removal in the Appalachian region. In short, government approval of mountaintop removal has resulted in a bad trade: cheap coal in exchange for ruined lives and the loss of some of the loveliest mountains and richest habitat in the Eastern U.S.
More to the point, mountaintop removal - which often involves dynamiting mountain peaks to quickly uncover beds of coal - creates a mountain of loose rubble that fills valleys, buries streams and kills animals. It often puts clouds of dirt and dust into the air and ruins the quality of life for those who live in the region and must breathe fouled air.
Worse yet, the freeing of harmful materials in the rubble pollutes rivers and potentially damages public health in downstream areas, the New York Times reported. Studies in 2008 and 2009 showed that mountaintop removal at other sites had freed hazardous chemicals exceeding allowable federal levels for toxins such as arsenic, lead, mercury and chromium.
"The proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend," said Peter S. Silva, assistant EPA administrator.
To read the complete editorial, visit www.charlotteobserver.com.