"Enforcing a law and removing a law are two different things,'' countered Naoma resident Vernon Haltom, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch, an environmental group trying to stop a mountaintop mine and preserve the site for a wind farm.
"To me,'' he said, "it's the difference between having traffic cops that are sleeping on the job and having no speed limit.''
Lawmakers and the governors of Kentucky and Tennessee had urged the EPA to block the regulation.
At issue is how to interpret regulatory language that says surface mining operations can't disturb land within 100 feet of a perennial or intermittent stream.
Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor said that if mining operations had to stay back 100 feet from every ephemeral stream -- one that grows when it rains and dries up when it doesn't -- or dry ditch, there would be no place to put leftover rock and dirt.
"The environmentalists are misleading the public into believing that this regulation will allow us to dump waste into rivers and dam up rivers,'' Caylor said. "I don't know how to respond to that. It's just not true.''
But Appalachian Voices, which maintains the ilovemountains.org Web site, estimates 470 mountains have already been destroyed.
EPA's action this week is "absolutely egregious,'' said Appalachian Voices program director Matt Wasson. "It's just an exclamation point on what we've been seeing for the last eight years.
"It's about making it easier for a few coal companies to engage in mountaintop removal.''
Wasson's group launched a campaign Wednesday urging Obama to stop mountaintop mining during his first 100 days. Comments posted through ilovemountains will go directly to the Obama Transition Team Web site.