New restrictions are coming for the controversial if effective mining technique of blowing off mountain peaks to dig down into coal seams, a practice in Appalachia that not only leaves an unsightly landscape but also fills valleys below with rubble and fouls streams.
The guidelines, announced Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency
, have long been sought by environmentalists and resisted by the mining industry, which has seen mountaintop mining in states like West Virginia grow to where it accounts for 10 percent of the coal generated in the U.S.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said so-called valley fills will be curtailed by restrictions on surface mining operations that go beyond pollution limits for salt and certain toxins, the Washington Post reported
. Problems occur when rainwater seeps through rubble blasted off mountaintops and picks up poisons that wind up in rivers and streams.
"You're talking about no, or very few, valley fills that are going to meet that standard," Jackson said.
Hundreds of permits for mountaintop mining were issued under presidents Clinton and Bush. But opposition to the procedure from environmentalists -- many with Democratic Party affiliations -- has hurt Democratic candidates in West Virginia, where jobs often trump environmental concerns. The state was once a lock for the Democratic Party.
"It could mean the end of an era," National Mining Association
spokesman Luke Popvich said of the new EPA rules. "That is tantamount to saying the intent is to strictly limit coal mining in Appalachia."