Wednesday, January 06, 2010

EPA Decisions On Two Mountaintop Coal Mining Operations

Jan 5: U.S. EPA announced what they called "a path forward" on two mountaintop coal mining operations in West Virginia. EPA said it is informing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it supports issuing a Clean Water Act (CWA) permit for the Hobet 45 mine in Lincoln County, operated by Hobet Mining, LLC. EPA said it made the decision after extensive discussions between EPA and the company resulted in additional significant protections against environmental impacts.

In a second action, the Federal District Court in Southern West Virginia will extend the court-established deadline to respond to the company's earlier request to end the litigation on the proposed Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County. EPA and the mining operator, Mingo Logan Mining Company, a subsidiary of Arch Coal, agreed to ask for the extension in order to continue discussions to determine if a revised mining plan can be developed that will comply with the Clean Water Act. After close study, EPA determined that the proposed mine raised significant environmental and water quality concerns.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “These are important examples of EPA’s work to bring clarity to this process. Our role, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, is to ensure that mining companies avoid environmental degradation and protect water quality so that Appalachian communities don’t have to choose between jobs and their health. Working closely with mining companies, our federal and state partners, and the public, our goal is to ensure Americans living in coal country are protected from environmental, health and economic damage.”

EPA noted that Appalachian coal mining has buried an estimated 2,000 miles of streams in states including West Virginia. Scientific studies have increasingly identified significant water quality problems below surface coal mining operations that can contaminate surface waters for hundreds of years. Data from coalfield communities also indicate that coal mining is responsible for causing fish kills and contaminating fish and wildlife. EPA has committed to use its Clean Water Act regulatory authorities to reduce environmental and water quality impacts associated with surface coal mining [See WIMS 6/11/09].

A release from the Sierra Club, including reactions from a number of organizations, Bill Price, environmental justice organizer for the Sierra Club in West Virginia said, "While we understand that this short term deal means more mining and destruction but also the extension of employment to mine workers, we know that mountaintop removal coal mining is not a long-term economic strategy for Appalachia. As Senator Byrd of West Virginia said last month, it is mechanization and the demand for coal that have eliminated jobs in West Virginia, and it's time to adapt to change and to embrace clean energy solutions."

Patriot Coal Corporation Chief Executive Officer Richard Whiting issued a statement saying, "We are encouraged that, through a constructive process of engagement and discussion, we have reached agreement with EPA on a mine plan that minimizes impact to the environment. In light of the importance of the Hobet 45 permit to our operations and our employees, we are hopeful that we can begin work in the permit area in the very near future." The Hobet surface mine is part of the Company's Corridor G mining complex in southern West Virginia. The company said at full production capability, the complex produces nearly four million tons of thermal coal annually.

Access a lengthy release from EPA with links to further details (
click here). Access EPA's Mountaintop Mining website for background (click here). Access a release from Sierra Club (click here). Access a release from Patriot Coal Corporation (click here).