Saturday, July 03, 2010

Permit ruling shows how EPA allows mountaintop mining to continue, with new techniques

In its conditional approval for a new mountaintop-removal coal mine in southern West Virginia, the Environmental Protection Agency has illustrated how the practice can continue under stricter regulations and different engineering, mining and reclamation methods.

EPA said it would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to issue a Clean Water Act permit for Arch Coal Inc. subsidiary Coal-Mac Inc.'s Pine Creek Surface Mine near Omar, Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reported: "EPA officials praised the company for taking steps to reduce downstream water pollution, but said they also want the company to agree to build its valley fill waste piles one at a time. Coal-Mac cut its stream impacts by 22 percent, agreed to haul waste rock and dirt for disposal on an adjacent mine site rather than in streams, and increased the deck of its valley fills in another move to reduce the length of waterways buried."

A key word in the regulatory process is "practicable." EPA's regional environmental assessment director, John Pomponio, told orps District Engineer Robert D. Peterson in a June 21 letter, "Where practicable, the applicant has maximized the amount of spoil returned to the mine bench and minimized the amount of excess spoil that must be disposed of in streams." But Ward also reports that a recent study by EPA and University of Kentucky scientists "found that ditches mine operators build to channel runoff do not replicate the important ecological functions of headwater streams." (Read more)

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