"CHARLESTON, W.VA. -- Here in coal country, President Obama's ambitious Environmental Protection Agency has met its first big mess.
On Inauguration Day, the EPA began a crackdown on "mountaintop" coal mines. The agency has scrutinized about 175 proposed mines, where peaks would be blasted off and valleys filled in with the rubble. It has signed off on only 48.
EPA officials -- repeating a refrain from a fast-marching first year in which they also took on greenhouse gases and the seemingly eternal problems of the Chesapeake Bay -- say they're just following the law. That, they say, means keeping poisonous things from the inside of a mountain out of streams on the surface.
But to many people in Appalachia, the orders coming out of Washington, especially one this month, have appeared contradictory and mysterious, signing off on some mines and blocking others. Environmentalists are unhappy because they fear federal officials are losing their nerve to take on the powerful coal industry. The coal industry is unhappy because it thinks the administration is on the brink of giving in to the green crowd.
To each side, it looks like the EPA hasn't made up its mind. Which would make now the time to yell as loudly as possible. "