President Bush gets in a few last blows on America before he leaves

Say good riddance to the Bush Administration.

Conservatives Want More Dirt in Your Water“, Matthew Yglesias, ThinkProgress.org, 1 December 2008:

As Kieran Healy observes, this Robert Pear article {in the New York Times} focusing on the Bush administration’s efforts to weaken labor rights so as to make it easier for businesses to poison their workforce and so forth also contains a few more doozies mentioned offhand:

“The Labor Department rule is among many that federal agencies are poised to issue before Mr. Bush turns over the White House to Mr. Obama. One rule would allow coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys.”

Yes, that’s right. In these troubled times, the right-wing has reached the conclusion that one of the primary issues facing the country is that it’s unduly difficult for coal companies to dump dirt into nearby streams. Because everyone wishes there was more dirt in their stream!

Note that this is one of those issues where nothing about a commitment to free markets or property rights or liberty compels one to slavishly adopt the business-friendly view that people should have unlimited rights to ruin the water quality of people downstream. But that’s conservative governance in action.

Background on this issue

The whining about loss of scenic vistas seems absurd to me — we have no shortage of mountains.  The pollution of streams is a serious matter.  The apparent inability of some greens to distinguish between these two issues seems quite odd, IMO.

Appalachia Is Paying Price for White House Rule Change“, Joby Warrick, Washington Post, 17 August 2004 — The accompanying graphic is also helpful.  A small excerpt from this powerful article:

The coal industry chafes at the name — “mountaintop removal” — but it aptly describes the novel mining method that became popular in this part of Appalachia in the late 1980s. Miners target a green peak, scrape it bare of trees and topsoil, and then blast away layer after layer of rock until the mountaintop is gone.

In just over a decade, coal miners used the technique to flatten hundreds of peaks across a region spanning West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. Thousands of tons of rocky debris were dumped into valleys, permanently burying more than 700 miles of mountain streams. By 1999, concerns over the damage to waterways triggered a backlash of lawsuits and court rulings that slowed the industry’s growth to a trickle.

Today, mountaintop removal is booming again, and the practice of dumping mining debris into streambeds is explicitly protected, thanks to a small wording change to federal environmental regulations. U.S. officials simply reclassified the debris from objectionable “waste” to legally acceptable “fill.”

The “fill rule,” as the May 2002 rule change is now known, is a case study of how the Bush administration has attempted to reshape environmental policy in the face of fierce opposition from environmentalists, citizens groups and political opponents. Rather than proposing broad changes or drafting new legislation, administration officials often have taken existing regulations and made subtle tweaks that carry large consequences.

… One proposed change — described by administration officials as a “clarification” of the Clean Water Act — would effectively void a two-decade-old ban on mining within 100 feet of a stream. Another proposal would scale back the federal government’s legal obligation to police state mining agencies, by reclassifying certain duties from “nondiscretionary” to “discretionary.”

In October 2001, the Bush administration intervened to change the focus of a federal mining study that was poised to recommend limits on the size of new mountaintop mines. And, in an internal policy change this spring, the administration promulgated guidelines that allow ditches dug by coal companies to serve as substitutes for streams that were being buried by debris.

“They call them ‘clarifications,’ but it’s really all about removing obstacles,” said Jack Spadaro, who regulated coal mines for 32 years as a federal mine inspector and senior mining safety officer. “They’ve made it easier for companies to dump mining waste into streams, and harder for citizens to challenge them.”

Government studies show that mountaintop mining inflicts a heavy toll. Streams that have not been buried under mining debris carry high levels of silt and toxic chemicals, experts say. About 5 percent of forest cover in southern West Virginia has been stripped away by mines, along with popular mountain vistas that can never be replaced.

Update

U.S. halts hundreds of coal mining permits“, AP, 24 March 2009 — Excerpt:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put hundreds of mountaintop coal-mining permits on hold Tuesday, saying it wants to evaluate the projects’ impact on streams and wetlands. The decision, announced by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, targets a controversial practice that allows coal mining companies to dump waste from mountaintop mining into streams and wetlands.

It could delay 150-200 surface coal mines, including mountaintop removal operations, according to the EPA. Those permits are issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency that has been criticized by environmental groups and has been sued for failing to thoroughly evaluate the environmental impact of mountaintop removal.

Under the Clean Water Act, companies cannot discharge rock, dirt and other debris into streams unless they can show that it will not cause permanent damage to waterways or the fish and other wildlife that live in it.

Last month, a three-judge appeals panel in Richmond, Va., overturned a lower court’s ruling that would have required the Corps to conduct more extensive reviews. The appeals court decision cleared the way for a backlog of permits that had been delayed until the lawsuit was resolved.

The EPA’s action on Tuesday leaves those permit requests in limbo a little longer.

Afterword

If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below. You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

These posts discuss American politics:

  1. R.I.P., G.O.P. – a well-deserved end, 7 November 2008
  2. Conservative reflections about America – starting to use their time in the wilderness to think, 15 November 2008
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7 thoughts on “President Bush gets in a few last blows on America before he leaves

  1. i only read the excerpt. was there any comment by the administration? sounded like another in the long line of stories about how every thing bad that has happened, is happening, or will ever happen is bush’s fault, so i didn’t bother to read the whole thing.

    Like

  2. I am ashamed to learn how little I know of the ecological side-effects of mining. I thought the main issue was emissions. Clearly that is overly simplistic. Pity. Excellent source of energy!

    Thank you for this heads up.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: For each of us our knowledge is just a tiny circle of light amidst the darkness. It seems to grow smaller with time; I knew so much more when I was 22!

    Like

  3. Sorry, but I can’t help it: “Paradise” by John Prine.

    When I was a child my family would travel
    Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
    And there’s a backwards old town that’s often remembered
    So many times that my memories are worn.

    Chorus:
    And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
    Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
    Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
    Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away

    Well, sometimes we’d travel right down the Green River
    To the abandoned old prison down by Adrie Hill
    Where the air smelled like snakes and we’d shoot with our pistols
    But empty pop bottles was all we would kill.

    Repeat Chorus:

    Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel
    And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
    Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
    Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.

    Repeat Chorus:

    When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
    Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
    I’ll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin’
    Just five miles away from wherever I am.

    Repeat Chorus:

    Like

  4. I rubbed elbows with this issue when I served as an expert witness in a federal suit to force the coal industry to comply with the selenium discharge limits in W. Virginia.

    The limit is 5 ppb parts per billion with a “B”. I was skeptical that such low levels could harm fish. To my astonishment, 2 ppb interferes with reproduction a little, 10 ppb is a wipe out for some species, and 5 ppb was chosen quite rationally by our regulators.

    The industry is ignoring these reg’s pretty bad, and using delaying tactics to avoid compliance which will be expensive. These issues rarely have one side in black hats 100%, but this one looks pretty bad for Big Coal to me, and I’m a Sarah Palin supporter.

    A guy on the board of directors of this coal co. is high level at Brown University. Another high level guy was Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis chairman. Very powerful elites, including ostensibly “green” elites, look the other way on these issues. It reminds me of the movie “Soylent Green”. We are neither in good shape, nor in good hands, based on my experience.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for this comment! It’s always good to hear from people with first-hand experience with these things.

    Like

  5. I find it odd (sort of) that the Fed’s are allowing increased toxicity in our land and waterways, but clamping down on supposed food dangers:

    Last Friday, a U.S. court and the FDA essentially ruled that organic raw milk shipped across state lines for use as animal food must be treated like a toxic waste; otherwise organic, sustainable dairymen will face a $250,000 fine and up to 5 years imprisonment for noncompliance. The case, U.S. v. Organic Pastures, was brought by evidence that showed an undercover FDA agent had received a one-gallon shipment of raw milk for pet food in Nevada, of all places, from California.

    Federal regulation has little to do with facts or public health, and everything to do with money and greed. The saga continues toward a “Hollow State.”

    Like

  6. Update

    U.S. halts hundreds of coal mining permits“, AP, 24 March 2009 — Excerpt:

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put hundreds of mountaintop coal-mining permits on hold Tuesday, saying it wants to evaluate the projects’ impact on streams and wetlands. The decision, announced by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, targets a controversial practice that allows coal mining companies to dump waste from mountaintop mining into streams and wetlands.

    It could delay 150-200 surface coal mines, including mountaintop removal operations, according to the EPA. Those permits are issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency that has been criticized by environmental groups and has been sued for failing to thoroughly evaluate the environmental impact of mountaintop removal.

    Under the Clean Water Act, companies cannot discharge rock, dirt and other debris into streams unless they can show that it will not cause permanent damage to waterways or the fish and other wildlife that live in it.

    Last month, a three-judge appeals panel in Richmond, Va., overturned a lower court’s ruling that would have required the Corps to conduct more extensive reviews. The appeals court decision cleared the way for a backlog of permits that had been delayed until the lawsuit was resolved.

    The EPA’s action on Tuesday leaves those permit requests in limbo a little longer.

    Like

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