Page Not Found
Inside a shadowy banking system that secretly moves trillions of dollars around the world.
With Bushs new nukes, the world gets more dangerous.
The Failure of Brand USA
Why the Bush administration can't sell America abroad.
Learning from Enron
Will Washington ever get it?
Its time to fight the Enronization of the media.
Colombias generals finally have the war they want, but their countrys people pay the price.
Sharons Lessons in Terror
War crimes tribunal for Cambodia proves elusive.
Polluters rewrite the Clean Water Act.
American tribes take their case against Washington to international courts.
No Fun or Games
Chinese sweatshops churn out toys for the United States.
Neal Horsley: One mean anti-abortionist.
FILM: What Time Is It There?
The Cricket-Loving Marxist Dandy
BOOKS: C.L.R. James: A Life.
The Invisible Band
MUSIC: Gorillaz in our midst.
March 1, 2002
Fat King Coal
Polluters rewrite the Clean Water Act.
Charleston, West VirginiaAs early as April, the Bush administration
plans to make it legal for the coal industry to bury hundreds of miles of aboveground
Appalachian streams with waste rock and dirt from strip mines.
With a simple change in federal Clean Water Act regulations, the administration
will make legal what has been illegal for 25 years. There is nothing more
inconsistent with the purpose of the Clean Water Act than permitting waters
to be permanently buried under tons of industrial wastes, says Joan Mulhern,
senior lawyer for Earthjustice, a Washington-based environmental group. Yet
that is exactly what this rule would allow.
In 1977, the Army Corps of Engineers defined the fill material
that could be dumped into streams under the Clean Water Act. The law allows
the Corps to authorize the burial of streams and wetlands through dredge-and-fill
permits. That authority was meant to be very limited. In the 1977 rules, fill
material was meant to exclude any pollutant discharged into the water
primarily to dispose of waste. But since the rules were written, the Corps
has used dredge-and-fill permits to approve hundreds of miles of coal industry
In mountaintop-removal mining, coal operators explode entire hilltops to uncover
valuable, low-sulfur coal reserves. Huge dozers and shovels shove waste rock
and earth left over from the mining into nearby valleys, burying streams. These
waste piles, called valley fills, grew dramatically in size and number as strip
A 1998 report by the Fish and Wildlife Service found 470 miles of valley fills
in West Virginia and 355 miles in Kentucky. In 2000 alone, the Corps approved
permits for 85 miles of streams in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky,
according to agency records. All of these fills were illegal, according to a
series of court rulings.
In 1989, a U.S. District Court ruled that valley fills are made of waste, which
isnt fill material. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that
decision in 1991. But injunctions to block new fills were not issued by the
In 1999, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy sued the Corps over its illegal
permits, and received a similar ruling from another U.S. District Court. The
Highlands Conservancy settled its claims, however, dropping the argument in
exchange for promises of stricter permit reviews and a detailed study of mountaintop
removals environmental impacts. Again, the court did not issue an injunction.
The Clinton administration moved quickly to help the coal industry avoid any
damage from the 1999 decision. In April 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency
and the Corps proposed to legalize valley fills. The Clinton administration
never finalized the plan. In October 2001, the Bush administration said it would
publish a final rule in December. That never happened either.
Last August, another environmental group, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth,
filed a new challenge to the Corps in the same West Virginia U.S. District Court
that heard the 1999 case. On February 7, lawyers for the Kentucky group asked
the court for an injunction to block the Corps from approving any new valley
Bush administration officials quickly announced that they planned to finalize
the rule change sometime in April. We want to protect the environment
but also be sure that we can continue with the production of coal, says
Mike Parker, whom Bush appointed to head the Corps.
Today, the environmental impact study is more than a year overdue, and the
Corps has forgotten its promises to more closely review valley fill permit applications.
This issue is not going away, says Jim Hecker, an attorney with
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, which represents the Kentucky citizens. Coal
field residents in Appalachia will continue to seek to enforce the law and prevent
the destruction of their land, streams and quality of life.
Earthjustice and other groups say that people like Parker are part of the problem.
Parker is a former lobbyist for CSX Transportation, a railroad that hauls much
of the coal produced in Appalachia. (In an unrelated dispute with the White
House over the Corps budget, Parker was forced to resign on March 6.)
The groups also point to J. Steven Griles, a former National Mining Association
lobbyist who is deputy secretary of the Interior Department, and a host of other
former industry lawyers and lobbyists appointed by Bush to regulatory agencies.
The Bush administrations pockets are lined with coal money,
says Maria Weidner, policy advocate for Earthjustice. The political appointees
key to deciding this issue built careers as lobbyists and executives for coal
interests. The stage is set for King Coal to have its way with the Clean Water
Act over the publics protests.