By Stephanie Shepard
On April 1st, an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) press release announced a new set of actions that will help strengthen and clarify the requirements for Appalachian mountaintop removal. The actions will set clear policies for mining in an effort to prevent more damage and irreversible effects to the Appalachian environment, particularly to watersheds. The practice of mountaintop removal mining (MTR) has been occurring since the 1960’s, in response to the nation’s increasing demand for coal. MTR is particularly abundant in the Appalachian region of the nation. MTR is a form of surface coal mining, and the process involves the removal of mountaintops to expose coal seams. This type of mining has many detrimental effects on our environment which include, but are not limited to, the increase of zinc, sodium, selenium, and sulfate levels in the water, which can negatively impact fish and other animals, the loss of Appalachian forests (more than 7% have been cut down as a result of MTR) and the often permanent damage to ecosystems and streams that are used for swimming, fishing and drinking. The EPA has split their course of action into three parts; the first is called Improved Guidance and Clarity. This step will clarify existing requirements in the Clean Water Act and ensure that future mining will not continue to cause significant problems to the environment, water outlets, or human health. The next step is called Strong Science, which will make two scientific reports by the Office of Research and Development publicly available. The third step is Increased Transparency, which is the creation of a permit tracking website so the public knows the status of mining permits. Even though the environmentally-harmful process of mountaintop mining is still happening, it is uplifting to see the EPA taking steps to help limit its negative effects.