The headline says "mountaintop removal for coal hurts water quality and harms fish." Well, we knew that. Luckily, the article actually gives an idea of the magnitude:
In West Virginia’s Appalachian mountains, fish are vanishing. The number of species has fallen, the populations of those that remain are down, and some individual fish look a little skinny.
A new government study traces the decline in abundance to mountaintop removal, the controversial coal mining practice of clear cutting trees from mountains before blowing off their tops with explosives. ...
[Nathaniel] Hitt and [Doug] Chambers found that the number of species was cut in half and the abundance of fish fell by a third. The silverjaw minnow, fosyface shiner, silver shiner, bluntnose minnow, spotted bass and largemouth bass, along with at least two other species detected before their study, were no longer there. ...
“The people opposed to the coal industry are trying to pile on with more studies,” said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. “It sounds like this is one of those studies that sets out to show there’s harm done. It sounds like perhaps more of the same.”
Raney said he has not seen the USGS study and cannot strongly criticize its methods or conclusions, but people “don’t just wake up in the morning and decide they are going to do mountaintop mining,” he said. “It takes three to four years to get a permit. Every aspect of the operation is analyzed.” ...
The coal the process produces provides power to hundreds of thousands of homes, industry advocates say, and creates about 14,000 jobs that pay middle-income salaries in regions where work is hard to find.
“The average mining wage is more than $66,000 per year . . . 57 percent higher than the average for industrial jobs,” according to the National Mining Association. “Mountaintop mining accounts for approximately 45 percent of the entire state’s coal production in West Virginia.”
Raney’s association disputed claims that mining destroys streams and mountains, saying state permits and government regulations require the land to be restored after use.
This is a situation where the lack of valuation for water quality and fish makes consideration of what is best for society very difficult. Armed with market transactions (and their permits that insure pristine environmental quality after reclamation) the coal industry presents the costs of regulations in dollar terms while the scientists present the benefits in species and stock status terms. That isn't a fair fight.
This is an example of why environmentalists and efficiency advocates should think that environmental valuation is needed. Getting ahead of that curve, industry argues that environmental valuation is junk science. When environmental regulation costs are monetized and the benefits are not, the costs will usually win. Since sometimes the benefits of regulation will exceed the costs there will be too little regulation and economic efficiency will be lower than it could be.
Full disclosure: I've boarded with Doug Chambers, older brother of graduate school office mate Paul, after my car broke down in WVa.