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Just days after the Obama administration opened parts of the East and Gulf coasts to oil and gas exploration, it announced that mountaintop removal coal mining would be virtually halted. MTR mining is controversial in the eastern coalfields. Tops of mountains are removed to reveal the coal. The unwanted dirt, rock and debris is pushed into the valleys below. These are called valley fills and are essential to MTR mining. The Obama Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that “no  or very few valley fills” would be approved under new restrictions the agency will impose under the Clean Water Act.

As always, we turn to Ken Ward Jr. for this news. His story is here and commentary on his blog is here. The MTR issue has torn West Virginia apart. Some residents point to the clear damage caused by MTR and say the practice must be stopped. (Widespread coal strip mining has been going on in the eastern mountains since the early 1960s and it’s been opposed since surface mining began.) Meanwhile, workers at the mines say environmental concerns could cost jobs. Republican candidates in the eastern coalfields are saying the Democrats are waging a “war on coal.” Yesterday, WV Gov. Joe Manchin (above) said he thought the Obama-ites were treating coal states differently from other parts of the country.

Sen. Robert Byrd welcomed the ruling. The coal industry did not. During a conference call, according to Ward, EPA chief Lisa Jackson told reporters, “Let me be clear. This is not about ending coal mining. This is about ending coal mining pollution.” Still, Jackson said, “You’re talking about no or very few valley fills that are going to be able to meet standards like this.”

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