With massive water pollution from coal mining practices much in the news in recent months, the Obama administration this week asked the US Army Corps of Engineers to scrutinize coal mining practices such as mountaintop mining. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson also announced her agency’s intention to review requests for mining permits for this type of surface mining.

In a couple of letters to the Corps of Engineers, the EPA head noted that coal mines cause water quality problems in streams below the mines and would cause significant degradation to streams buried by mining activities.

In a press statement, Jackson said, “The two letters reflect EPA’s considerable concern regarding the environmental impact these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams.’

Mountaintop refers to the removal of the top layers of earth to expose coal that can be extracted. The waste is dumped in adjacent valleys and often buries or harms neighboring watershed, according to the EPA. Additional mineral deposits and other pollution can negatively impact fish populations and promote deforestation among other harmful effects.

EPA also requested to meet with the Corps of Engineers and the mining companies seeking new permits for mountaintop mining to discuss alternatives that would better protect streams, wetlands and rivers.

Said Jackson, “I have directed the agency to review other mining permit requests. EPA will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment.”

The Corps of Engineers oversees permit approval for mountaintop mining as mandated by the Clean Water Act.