Known euphemistically as mountaintop mining, the process has enormous machines scrape away ridges to get at the coal seams below. The residual rock and dirt are then dumped or carted down the mountainside into nearby valleys and streams.
In 2002, with the Bush White House firmly in control, the Environmental Protection Agency rewrote clean water regulations to add mine waste to the list of materials that can be used to fill in streams for development and other purposes. In 2004, confronted with the so-called stream buffer-zone rule prohibiting mining within 100 feet of a stream — the Bush administration decided the rule only required companies to respect the buffer zone “to the extent practicable,” giving the green light to further dumping
Studies have identified more benign, though more costly, ways to dispose of the waste. Other studies have warned unless alternatives are found an area larger than Delaware will be laid waste by dynamite and bulldozer by the end of this decade, poisoning water supplies and causing continuous flooding.