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For news about coal mining, we turn to Ken Ward, Jr., and the Charleston (WVA) Gazette, and the news was swirling yesterday that the federal Environmental Protection Agency was going to more closely scrutinize permits that use mountaintop removal mining techniques. In this kind of mining, the tops of mountains are blasted, scrapped off and pushed into the valleys (and streams) below, exposing the coal seam. Ward reported that EPA wasn’t blocking permits, but it was reviewing its position on whether this kind of mining violated existing laws.

EPA’s move confused everyone. Coal interests warned of massive unemployment. Environmental groups declared victory. The EPA said Monday that its position on mountaintop mining was “in a state of transition.” Today, in his Coal Tattoo blog, Ward reports that EPA may be starting to slow mountaintop mining, but “we don’t know how much of a crackdown it’s eventually going to turn out to be.”

Ward reviews the history of mountaintop mining — and by the end of his article, we’re not so sure what is likely to happen. The Louisville Courier-Journal quoted President Obama as saying, “I will tell you that there’s some pretty country up there that’s been torn up pretty good.” Ward notes that on two different mine permits, Obama’s EPA has taken two entirely different positions on mountaintop mining. So which position will EPA eventually take? We’ll have to wait — and read Coal Tattoo.

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