According to time-honored tradition, outgoing U.S. administrations like to use their last weeks in office to make dubious appointments, issue otherwise indefensible pardons, and issue unpardonable rules. Accordingly, the Bush Environmental Protection Agency reportedly has signed off on a rule change that will make it much easier for coal companies to dump debris from lopped-off mountaintops into nearby streams. Governors of Kentucky and Tennessee opposed the rule change, but not the governor of West Virginia, where the practice is most widespread.
The practice of lopping off Appalachian mountaintops got a big impetus, ironically, from clean air regulation adopted in the 1970s that set up a sulfur emissions trading system. In order to get at the low-sulfur coal found at higher elevations in the Appalachians, companies took to lopping off mountaintops to get at the coal seams and then depositing left-over debris wherever they could.
Since coal companies began large-scale mountaintop strip mining in earnest, claims the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, â''More than 400 mountaintops have been stripped of trees and flattened, 1,200 miles of mountain streams buried under rubble. Already the lush forest which once cloaked 387,000 acres of the worldâ''s most ancient mountain range have been replaced by apocalyptic lunar landscapes.â''
For a recent eyewitness account of whatâ''s involved in mountaintop stripping, visit my colleague Peter Fairleyâ''s recent post.