Oct 25 2010

Hot Topics This Week

Mountaintop removal mining

The EPA is moving forward with its plans to revoke a mining permit for the largest mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia: Spruce No. 1.

Environmentalists are cautiously rejoicing as the Environmental Protection Agency takes a step toward vetoing a permit for the highly contended Spruce 1 mountaintop removal coal mine, which would be run by Arch Coal.  If it went through, it would be the largest mine of its kind ever stretching 2,278 acres; an economic boon to the county but an environmental disaster according to some.  The permit in question, one required under the Clean Water Act that would allow the mine to use “valley fills” to dump the materials removed during the mining process, was granted in 2007 under the Bush administration, but the EPA is considering whether to veto that permit before the mine can get fully underway.  The concern is that the coal sludge and mountain debris that is produced by the process of mountaintop removal mining would be pushed into the valleys, destroying streams and potentially infecting the water system.  Arch Coal has proposed that they create new streams to replace the ones filled in, but the EPA is concerned that those streams couldn’t replicate the diversity of fish and plants that are currently supported by the natural streams.  With the high amount of biodiversity in the region, this is a real concern.  A final decision is expected by the end of this year.

An international summit is planned in St. Petersburg on November 21st to address the problem of declining tiger populations

Since 2010 is the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese Zodiac, the Global Tiger Initiative is sponsoring a summit with the leaders of the 13 nations containing the tiger’s range with the goal of doubling the tiger population by 2022.  The summit is touted as “the most significant meeting ever held to discuss the fate of a single non-human species.”  The tiger is considered an endangered species in Asia with only 3,200 individuals left in the wild.  These animals occupy only 7% of their original habitat and approximately 1,000 are breeding females.  There are currently six living subspecies of tiger and three subspecies that have already gone extinct.  The biggest threats to their continued existence are poaching and habitat destruction.  While many of the countries containing tiger habitat have already made these actions illegal, it’s been very difficult for them to enforce their laws.  Recently, the World Wildlife Fund recorded a bulldozer destroying tiger habitat for an illegal palm oil plantation.  The “tiger summit” would hopefully create a conservation focus on 42 “source sites,” areas where tiger populations are concentrated and there are enough breeding females to allow for recovery.  Valdimir Putin, the Prime Minister of Russia, has already agreed to attend and is becoming an impetus to push other leaders to attend as well.  Putin has expressed interest in conserving tiger populations previously, including posing with a sedated tiger.

The EPA has proposed a new rule for the Four Corners coal-fired power plant, located on in the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, to reduce its emissions by 80% over the next 5 years.

On October 19th, the EPA proposed a source specific Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) to require the Four Corners power plant (FCPP) to bring its three oldest plants in compliance with the Clean Air Act’s Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) requirement. The FCPP has been in operation for over 45 years and is one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the nation.  It also emits around 122 million pounds of nitrogen oxide into the air every year.  As a result, FCPP has been the target of several environmental groups over the years who have worked to have regulatory agencies bring emissions down.  In July 2007, the Sierra Club filed a suit in federal court to force the EPA to take action on an FIP.  On February 2010, Earthjustice and several other groups petitioned the Department of Interior and Agriculture to take action to reduce emissions on the plant. Because of its size and proximity to the four corners area where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet, pollutants from the plant have affected visibility in several national parks in the area, including Grand Canyon National Park and Mesa Verde.  The proposed controls would cost approximately $717 million and would reduce NOx emission from 45,000 tons a year to 9,000 tons a year, improving visibility at the effected parks by an average of 57%.

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