Last week, I noted that Gina McCarthy, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, suggested that, in the short run, the most significant pressure on inefficient energy sources would come, not from climate change legislation or from EPA GHG regulations, but instead from all of the conventional pollutant regulations that EPA expects to promulgate that will make use of coal much more expensive. While Gina was referring to a variety of air regulations, such as CAIR, MACT rules, and SIP revisions following a more stringent PM standard, even Gina may have been too narrowly focused. Today, EPA announced that it was proposing to veto a mountaintop mining permit issued to the Spruce No. 1 Surface Mine, in West Virginia.

The proposed veto was based on a number of interrelated concerns, including impacts on water quality and fish and wildlife, an inadequate mitigation plan, and the cumulative impacts of Spruce No. 1 and other mining operations in the aptly named Coal River basin. The cumulative impact issue must, by itself, terrify mine owners.

I’m sure that EPA made this decision (rightly or wrongly) on the merits under the Clean Water Act. Nonetheless, does anyone think that Gina McCarthy - and Administrator Jackson - are not aware of the broader picture? Even if they were not, the environmental organizations that are looking to end use of coal certainly are. When one piles CAIR and mercury and increasingly stringent particular standards on top of limitations on mountaintop mining, the phrase that occurs to me is indeed “cumulative impact.” However, it’s the cumulative impact of all of these regulations and regulatory decisions on those using – or financing – coal plants that set me thinking. Perhaps that’s why a separate story in today’s GreenWire was headlined “Coal: Outlook grim for new power plants”