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Congressman Tom Perriello (VA-05) Seeks EPA Clarification on MTR

During the campaign, President Obama promised to make protecting Appalachian streams a primary task of his EPA. Earlier this week Mike Shapiro, the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA Office of Water, testified before the the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment regarding the EPA’s priorities in the upcoming year. Many in Appalachia are curious about where the well-being of our region falls on that list of priorities.

In response to the recent public outcry about EPA’s approval of dozens of new mining permits (including many mountaintop removal sites with multiple valley fills), freshman Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello (VA-05) sought to get some straight answers from EPA on how they plan to handle the mountaintop removal issue moving forward.

Congressman Perriello: Mr Shapiro, my understanding is that the EPA is currently reviewing about 150 to 200 mountaintop removal permits, and of the ones reviewed so far, roughly 90% have been permitted. Do you expect that percentage to remain in place with the remaining permits?

Mr. Shapiro: Its tough to predict. As you indicated, we’ve started a review focusing on those that were furthest along in the process, and as you indicated a relatively small percentage had been identified for further review by the agency in discussion with the Army corps of Engineers and the permittees

As we go forward it depends on the mix of proposals that are present. The kinds of considerations that weigh in our judgment when we decide to raise issues have to do with the scope and scale of the impact of the proposed mine, the sensitivity of the resources that might be impacted and at least our initial assessment of the degree to which damages have been avoided to the maximum extent practicable.

I think that although the evidence we have in the first 200 is the best we have to project into the future, we can’t guarantee, we’re not shooting for a specific percentage. We’re really shooting to identify those that are seriously problematic and to try and address them.

Congressman Perriello: When you say you’re looking at the ones furthest along, do you mean that have done the most to look at potential impacts on the ecosystem and environment, or simply furthest along in terms of investment and development?

Mr. Shapiro: Furthest along in the Corps permitting process, thank you for that question to allow me to clarify. What had happened is that because of some uncertainty involving lawsuits that were in play, there had been a hold up in the backlog of permits – had developed over time. So in fairness to the permitees we have focused early attention on those that were furthest along in terms of temporally their readiness for permitting in the view of the Corps’ process. As we work out way through that backlog we’ll try to do that in a way that respects the amount of time its taken already to get the permit up to where it is.

Congressman Perriello: Is their an issue at all with a lack of funding for oversight that hinders your ability to review and suggest alternatives to some of these mountaintop removal situations, around Appalachia in particular.

Mr. Shapiro: At this point I think we have, in my view, resources to do the job in front of us. Like anyone else, I think if we had more staff who were experienced in this area its possible we could move faster, but we were able to juggle the resources we have by focusing on those that are the highest priority, getting the maximum results in terms of our investment in staff.

Watch the video here. The exchange with Congressman Perriello begins at about 1:56:20.

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