EPA issues final mountaintop mining guidance

“Under this guidance, EPA will continue to work with other federal agencies, states, local communities, and companies to design mining operations that adequately protect our nation’s waters and people's health,” Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, said in a statement. “We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and this guidance allows EPA to work with companies to meet that goal, based on the best science.”

Environmental groups have mounted a growing opposition campaign against mountaintop mining, in which companies use explosives to blow up parts of a mountain in order to gain access to valuable coal seams. The practice often pollutes nearby waterways.

Earthjustice praised the final guidance Thursday.

“We’re glad to see Administrator Lisa Jackson  follow through on her commitment to finalize this important staff guidance, which is a considerable step toward giving Appalachian communities their rightful protections under existing law and following sound science,” said Earthjustice Senior Legislative Counsel Joan Mulhern said in a statement.

EPA issued interim guidance in April of last year clarifying existing pollution limits for waterways under the Clean Water Act and offering new science that shows the effects of pollution from mountaintop mining on aquatic life, among other things.

Industry groups challenged the interim guidance, arguing it is overreaching and unrealistic.

The National Mining Association (NMA) said EPA's final guidance goes beyond its Clean Water Act authority.

“Despite the administration’s pledges to focus on jobs creation, today’s final guidance is a jobs destroyer and does nothing to cure EPA’s unlawful permit moratorium on coal mining in Appalachia," NMA President Hal Quinn said in a statement.

EPA, in issuing its final guidance, stressed that it is "based on the best-available science and incorporates input and feedback from over 60,000 comments received from the public and key stakeholders."

The Hill reported earlier Thursday that EPA would be soon issuing the guidance. 

This story was updated at 1:07 p.m. and 1:45 p.m.