Sept 26, 2011: Markey Questions Adequacy of Enviro Safeguards Used in Mountaintop Removal Mining

Coal Industry Practices Change, Yet Many Mining Safeguards Remain the Same
WASHINGTON (September 26, 2011) – Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, today asked the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) in the Department of Interior for more information about the practice of mountaintop removal mining and OSM’s failure to update its environmental safeguards, many of which have been unchanged since the early 1980s. Rep. Markey also highlights the increasing practice of filling mine-shafts and other open pits with waste created from burning coal in power plants, which could have serious consequences for drinking water safety.
In the past, canaries were used in coal mines as a barometer for the health and safety of the coal miners. Today our streams serve as the modern day canary for the health of our environment,” said Rep. Markey. “These streams and the life they support are continuing to be harmed by mountaintop removal mining, yet our mining agency appears unwilling to take action to prevent a potential environmental disaster.”
A copy of the letter can be found HERE.
For the last two decades, a mining technique commonly referred to as mountaintop removal (MTR) mining has become increasingly prevalent in the Appalachian region. During MTR mining, the forests and topsoil on the top of the mountain are stripped away, and explosives are used to blast off the tops of the mountains to access the coal seams beneath.  The debris from these operations is then dumped into valleys often burying vital headwater streams that support a diverse aquatic life. Approximately 2,000 miles of headwater streams have been buried as a result of MTR mining, causing degraded water quality downstream.
In the letter, Rep. Markey notes that the OSM has failed to establish national standards to protect offsite areas from the impacts of MTR mining despite a clear statutory mandate to do so.  Because of the large scale impacts of MTR mining, the air quality of neighboring areas are often impacted by the spread of coal dust, which can cause serious respiratory ailments.  MTR mining can cause increased levels of selenium, other heavy metals, salinity, and suspended solids in nearby streams.  This pollution often spreads downstream, degrading water quality and threatening drinking water supplies.
The letter also queries OSM on the utilization of coal combustion waste to fill mine-shafts. Highly toxic coal combustion waste represents the second largest industrial waste stream in the United States, and dumping this waste into mine-shafts can create conditions that allow for contamination of drinking water. Despite this potential threat, the OSM has not revised its water-monitoring regime for coal combustion waste since 1983.

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