Apart from razing the Appalachian landscape, polluting thousands of rivers and streams, devastating local communities, and increasing erosion and flooding in the surrounding areas, there's really not a whole lot to love about the mountaintop-removal method of coal mining. Here's the latest in a long, long line of White House moves to bolster the technique:

The Bush administration is set to issue a regulation on Friday that would enshrine the coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. The technique involves blasting off the tops of mountains and dumping the rubble into valleys and streams. ...

The new rule would allow the practice to continue and expand, providing only that mine operators minimize the debris and cause the least environmental harm, although those terms are not clearly defined and to some extent merely restate existing law.

Love those caveats. No doubt the administration can find some former industry exec to head up oversight and "make sure" those mine operators actually minimize the debris. Better yet, the new regulations expect mine operators to reclaim the headwaters and streams they pollute, despite freely admitting that such efforts "have achieved little success to date." So the environmental impact will be minimized if you assume... lots of magic.

Anyway, most of the complaints about the world's growing coal addiction--the stuff still provides over half of America's electricity and is being burned at a staggering pace in China--focus, understandably, on the carbon-emissions angle. But the way that (increasingly unregulated) coal mining is destroying broad swaths of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee can't be taken lightly, either.

--Bradford Plumer