Victory for Mountaintop Strip Mining May be Pyrrhic

In a decision hailed by the coal industry and condemned by critics of Appalachian mountain strip mining, a U.S. Appeals Court found on Friday the 13th of this month that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should not be required to do more strict environmental reviews of applications to lop mountain tops. The Richmond, Virginia, appeals court ruled that a district court judge had erred in not deferring sufficiently to the Corpsâ'' technical expertise and in asking it to take into account indirect environmental effects that are more properly left to state regulatory authorities. Though the National Mining Association hailed the decision, its real impact may be to hasten the advent of tougher Federal supervision of mountaintop stripping.

The Bush Administration was friendly to the coal industry in every possible wayâ''even friendlier than it was to oil and gasâ''as documented in many newspaper articles and books, including the third chapter of my Kicking the Carbon Habit. President Obama promised during his campaign to crack down on the Appalachian coal industry, a risky stand given the prevalence of the practice in politically decisive states like Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia. With courts taking a step back from tighter regulation of coal, Obamaâ''s super-environmentalist team seems sure to step in.

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