Big News: In a historic move, Lisa Jackson’s EPA threw down the gauntlet on mountaintop removal mining last Friday — after they had just compromised on another massively destructive mountaintop removal operation. Is this the beginning of the end of the plunder of Appalachia — or is the EPA moving sideways to regulate what its own science has called an irreversible violation of the Clean Water Act?

Within the backdrop of the EPA’s extraordinary announcement to employ its veto authority at the largest mountaintop removal mine site in West Virginia, the coalfield uprising is moving on several fronts this week. Today, besieged coalfield residents in the Coal River Valley are delivering an urgent letter to West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin to stop an impending mountaintop removal operation near a dangerous coal slurry impoundment in their communities that will destroy jobs and their homeland and an internationally acclaimed wind farm. Updates of the action at the governor’s mansion will be posted at Climate Ground Zero.

Meanwhile, the Alliance for Appalachia and and other coalfield groups are also continuing to collect statements against the Army Corps’ NWP 21 permit process and their chaotic hearings last week.

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Charleston Gazette/Coal Tattoo journalist Ken Ward broke the news on the EPA on Friday: The EPA announced its historic intentions to “issue a public notice of a proposed determination to restrict or prohibit the discharge of dredged and/or fill material at the Spruce No. 1 Mine project site consistent with our authority under Section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act and regulations 40 C.F.R. Part 231.” In a line: For the first time in decades, the EPA is moving to invoke its veto power to stop a St. Louis, Mo.-owned Arch Coal mountaintop removal mining operation from unacceptable adverse impacts on the environment and water quality.

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The EPA has concluded that the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to adjust the permit would still result in the destruction of seven miles of streams. So, why did the EPA accept a compromise at the St. Louis, Mo.-owned Patriot Coal’s massive Hobet mountaintop removal mine, which would reportedly still allow half of the affected streams to be destroyed? In truth, Lisa Jackson and the EPA have recognized that thousands of miles of streams have been sullied and jammed with mining waste from mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia over the past three decades — and the impacts are “immense and irreversible, and there are no scientifically credible plans for mitigating these impacts,” according to Margaret Palmer’s U.S. Senate hearing testimony last June.

West Virginia state environmental biologist Doug Wood has noted:

We now have clear evidence that in some streams that drain mountaintop coal quarry valley fills, the entire order Ephemeroptera (mayflies) has been extirpated, not just certain genera of this order … The loss of an order of insects from a stream is taxonomically equivalent to the loss of all primates (including humans) from a given area. The loss of two insect orders is taxonomically equivalent to killing all primates and all rodents through toxic chemicals.

Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, W. Va. is not only the largest mountaintop removal site in West Virginia — it has been the quintessential battleground for science and law-based mining policies over 10 years. So, is this the beginning of the end of the plunder of Appalachia … or just more of regulating an abomination? A searing new collection of photos and essays — Plundering Appalachia — asks this question in one of the most gripping and informed books in years. Examining the cradle to the grave impacts of mountaintop removal mining, and coal in general, Plundering Appalachia shows the indisputable destruction of reckless mining on the local communities, the mountains and valleys, the watersheds, and the nation at large. Here’s a video clip from the book:

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