Thursday, October 01, 2009

EPA says all 79 pending applications for strip-mine permits in Central Appalachia violate the law

Environmental Protection Agency officials have issued their latest ruling on the 79 Central Appalachian surface-mining permit applications EPA flagged as potentially dangerous in September, and the new ruling looks a lot like the first one: All violate the Clean Water Act and need to be revised. Peter S. Silva, EPA assistant administrator, writes the permits "have not yet adequately demonstrated that anticipated adverse environmental and water quality impacts have been fully avoided and minimized as required," Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette reports. (UPDATE, Oct. 2: Here is Ward's detailed analysis of the permits.)

All the proposed operations have been characterized as "mountaintop removal," because they would use excavated rock and dirt to create fills that would would bury or otherwise affect 170 miles of streams. The permit applications in question cover more than 60 square miles in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, and would mine more than 300 million tons of coal.

Applications now subject to a 60-day review by EPA after the Army Corps of Engineers informs EPA that a particular permit has been revised. After the 60 days, the Corps can issue the permit without EPA's approval, forcing EPA to remove its objection or officially block the plan. Mary Anne Hitt, deputy director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, told Ward: "An enhanced review of each of these pending permits will surely prove that this most destructive form of coal mining is incompatible with clean water."

Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, tells Ward: "EPA's answer of more delay and study is at cross-purposes with our nation's need for affordable energy, investments and secure jobs." EPA emphasized in its statement that it hasn't rejected any of the permits, Ward reports, and Silva writes: "EPA is eager to work with the corps and companies to assess modifications to mining plans, include additional water quality and biological monitoring provisions, and take other appropriate steps to address anticipated water quality concerns associated with these projects." (Read more)

You can read our first report on the 79 permits from September for more information on the process, and you can see the list of permits here.

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