EPA Called on to Set National Limits on Air Pollution From U.S. Coal Mines

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 573-4898 x 1303
Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, (760) 366-2232 x 302,
Ginny Cramer, Sierra Club, (804) 225-9113 x 102
Ted Zukoski, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9622

Environmental Groups

EPA Called on to Set National Limits on Air Pollution From U.S. Coal Mines

Mines Endanger Public Health, Safety and the Climate

WASHINGTON - A
coalition of environmental groups today called on the U.S. Environmental

Protection Agency to put public health and safety first, and to
establish, for
the first time ever, limits on air pollution from coal mines throughout
the
United
States.

 

“It’s time
to finally hold coal mines accountable to our health, safety and
environment,”
said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth
Guardians. “With mines spewing methane, dust, toxic orange clouds and
other
dangerous gases, we need a national response that puts clean air before
coal.”

 

In a
petition to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Earthjustice, WildEarth
Guardians,
the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Integrity Project
and the
Sierra Club called for the agency to exercise its authority under the
Clean Air
Act to both list coal mines as a source of harmful air pollution and
ensure the
best systems of emission reduction are used to keep this pollution in
check.
Such standards have been adopted for gravel mines, coal-fired power
plants,
coal-processing plants and dozens of other sources, but currently no
national
limits exist on air pollution from coal mines.

 

“Coal mines
have gotten a free pass for far too long,” said Kassie Siegel with the
Center
for Biological Diversity. “It’s essential to establish these
common-sense rules
to reduce air pollution from coal mines — including closed mines no
longer
producing coal — while we transition as rapidly as possible away from
reliance
on dirty, dangerous, coal-fired power.”

 

The petition
comes as attention increasingly focuses on methane emissions from coal
mines.
Methane is major a safety hazard, contributing to a number of mine
catastrophes
over the years, including the most recent Upper Big Branch Mine disaster
in West
Virginia. Methane is also a potent greenhouse gas. The EPA has
determined that
methane, with more than 20 times the heat-trapping ability of carbon
dioxide,  endangers public health
and welfare. It also contributes to ground-level ozone pollution, the
key
ingredient of smog. Nationally, coal mines are responsible for 10
percent of all
human-caused methane emissions, yet no standards exist to control these
emissions.

 

Already,
the EPA has established national limits on methane emissions from
municipal
solid waste landfills, and the agency’s own reports show methane
controls at
coal mines can be exceptionally cost effective. Overall, the EPA
estimates more
than 85 percent of all U.S. coal-mine methane emissions can be
eliminated at a
cost of $15/ton; with health benefits factored in, the payback could be
as much
as $240/ton of methane reduced.

 

“Methane
is a dangerous gas, but it’s probably the most cost effective to
control,” said
Aaron Isherwood with the Sierra Club. “The health, safety and climate
benefits
of reducing methane from coal mines are simply too important to
ignore.”

 

The
petition also calls on the EPA administrator to adopt strict limits on
other
dangerous air pollutants released from coal mines, including particulate
matter,
nitrogen oxide gases and volatile organic compounds — all toxic air
pollutants
under the Clean Air Act.

 

Nitrogen
oxides are an especially visible example of the problem. Blasting at
strip
mines, such as those in the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming,
produce
dense, orange clouds of nitrogen oxides. No standards currently limit
such
pollution from coal mines. Instead, signs posted along public highways
warn of
orange clouds, advising people to “Avoid Contact.”

 

“Other
industries are already required to do their part to protect the air we
breathe,”
said Ted Zukoski, a staff attorney with Earthjustice. “It’s time for the
EPA to
hold the coal industry accountable for its air pollution
too.”

 

The groups
are asking the EPA to respond to the petition within 180 days.

 

To read the
petition, click here.

 

For images
of methane venting at the West Elk Coal Mine in Western
Colorado, see  http://picasaweb.google.com/TZactivist/WellPadsAtWestElk?authkey=Gv1sRgCKqS0sv3yL3nGQ&feat=directlink#).

 

For
images of orange clouds and warning signs in the Powder River Basin of
Wyoming,
see
http://picasaweb.google.com/WildEarthClimate/PowderRiverBasinCoalMining#).

WildEarth
Guardians is a Western U.S.-based nonprofit dedicated to protecting and
restoring the wildlife, wild places, and wild rivers of the American
West.

The Center for
Biological
Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more
than
255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of
endangered
species and wild places.

The Environmental
Integrity Project combines research, reporting, media outreach, and the
litigation to ensure that environmental laws are enforced, are
effective, and
inform and empower the public.

 

The Sierra
Club is a national nonprofit organization of approximately 1.3 million
members
and supporters dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild
places
of the earth; to practicing and promoting the responsible use of the
earth’s
ecosystems and resources; to educating and enlisting humanity to protect
and
restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to using
all
lawful means to carry out these objectives.

 

Earthjustice
is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the
magnificent
places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending
the
right of all people to a healthy environment.

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