"Obama Walks a Fine Line Over Mining"

"WASHINGTON -- With the election of President Obama, environmentalists had expected to see the end of the 'Appalachian apocalypse,' their name for exposing coal deposits by blowing the tops off whole mountains.

But in recent weeks, the administration has quietly made a decision to open the way for at least two dozen more mountaintop removals. ...

The industry says the practice of using explosives to blast away a peak is safer and more efficient than traditional shaft mining. But critics say the process scars the landscape and dumps tons of waste -- some of it toxic -- into streams and valleys.

The administration's decision is not the final word on the projects or the future of mountaintop removal. But the letter, coupled with the light it sheds on relations between the mining industry and the Obama White House, has disappointed environmentalists. Some say they feel betrayed by a president they thought would end or sharply limit the practice.

The issue is politically sensitive because environmentalists were an active force behind Obama's election, and the president's standing is tenuous among Democratic voters in coal states. West Virginia, for example, voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election largely because Democrat Al Gore was critical of the coal industry."

Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten report for the Los Angeles Times May 31, 2009.

Monday, June 1, 2009