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For Immediate Release, March 24, 2009

Contact: Tierra Curry, (503) 989-2148

Center for Biological Diversity Statement on the Environmental Protection Agency's
Decision to Halt New Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Permits

PORTLAND, Oreg.— The Center for Biological Diversity applauds EPA’s announcement today that it will halt new mountaintop removal coal mining permits so that water-quality impacts can be fully assessed. Mountaintop removal is a devastating form of coal mining that blasts away up to 1,000 feet of mountain peaks and then dumps the remains directly into streams, annihilating forest and stream life and causing downstream pollution.

“There is no such thing as a clean coal mine, and halting new mountaintop removal permits is a great first step in addressing the devastating impacts of surface coal mining on the ecosystems and communities of Appalachia,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who grew up between two coal mines in southeastern Kentucky.

The Army Corps of Engineers issues Clean Water Act permits for proposed surface coal-mining operations, and EPA is responsible for reviewing the permits to ensure that water quality is protected. In February, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a lower court’s injunction against the Corps’ issuance of permits for mountaintop-removal coal mines, paving the way for additional destruction. Today’s letters indicate that the agency will review pending mining permits, state that mining activities cause significant degradation to streams, and recommend specific actions to reduce these impacts.

More than 1,200 miles of streams have been buried, 1.5 million acres of hardwood forest have been lost, and more than 470 mountaintops have been permanently destroyed since mountaintop-removal coal mining began in 1970.

The direct impacts of coal mining are only the first part of coal’s double-barreled impact on society and the environment. Leading climate scientists have called for an end to the combustion of coal for energy in traditional coal-fired power plants because continued greenhouse gas emissions from coal use will commit us to irreversible and unacceptable climate impacts, including many feet of sea level rise, loss of homes for millions of coastal residents, and extinction of up to 70 percent of the Earth’s plants and animals.

“From the mine to the smokestack, the coal industry uses dirty, damaging, and obsolete technology,” said Curry. “We hope that today’s announcement on mountaintop removal signals the beginning of a rapid shift to a clean energy future in which coal plays no part.”

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