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EPA Obtains Changes to West Virginia Coal Mine Permit to Significantly Protect Water and Environment

Release Date: 07/27/2010
Contact Information: Donna Heron 215-814-5113 /

PHILADELPHIA (July 27, 2010) - Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issued a final Clean Water Act permit to Coal-Mac Inc. for the Pine Creek Surface Mine project in Logan County, West Virginia.

Consistent with the Clean Water Act and the recent EPA guidance on mountain top mining, the Agency’s consultation with the Company and the Corps led to significant changes to the permit that will reduce potential adverse impacts to water quality and avoid significant degradation of the aquatic ecosystems in the Pine Creek watershed. The key changes include reductions to stream impacts, protection of water quality through a strict conductivity level, enhanced mitigation and restoration, and reduction of cumulative impacts. EPA also reached an agreement with the company related to sequencing of valley fill construction. The company may only proceed with the first valley fill and any additional valley fills will have to be evaluated individually as part of the agreement. If EPA and the Corps find that any of the valley fills are adversely impacting water quality, we will not approve additional mining at the site. The company agreed to meet all conditions presented by the Agency.

Key changes and special permit conditions obtained by EPA and consistent with April 1st Guidance include:

Reduce Stream Impacts: The original mine plan proposed to have the full mine area disturbed and all three proposed valley fills under construction within 12 to 18 months of commencing operations. EPA worked with the company to reduce stream impacts significantly.

Protect Water Quality: EPA worked with the Corps and company to ensure mining related conductivity (a measure of salinity) remains at levels that will not cause or contribute to degradation to water quality or streamlife. Extensive chemical and biological stream monitoring is required to demonstrate that conductivity remains below acceptable levels, set in the EPA guidance, before the Corps and EPA will approve additional mining. If this condition is not achieved, Coal-Mac is not authorized to proceed with the construction of the next valley fill.

Sequencing Valley Fill: EPA reached an agreement to sequence valley fill construction so that no new mining is approved by the Corps and EPA unless it is demonstrated that water quality standards are being met and public health is being protected.

Enhance Mitigation: Coal-Mac proposed on-site stream restoration and creation of 40,000-plus linear feet of stream. The plan includes a significant monitoring plan and benchmarks for success, an adaptive management plan that provides back up plans if the projects are unsuccessful. It also includes upfront financial assurances. The applicant’s benchmarks of success include biological, chemical and physical measures that are intended to replace the lost functions within the immediate watershed. EPA believes the proposed mitigation is consistent with Clean Water Act regulations.

Avoid Cumulative Impacts: To address cumulative impacts, Coal-Mac has offered to deed-restrict three areas previously permitted to be filled on the Phoenix No. 5 Surface Mine operation, where five valley fills were authorized. Two valley fills have been constructed and Coal-Mac will deed-restrict the three-remaining unfilled sites. Those areas will not be subject to filling now or in the future. This is an avoidance of impacts to 3,900 linear feet of stream channel.

EPA has committed to use its Clean Water Act regulatory authorities to improve protections for the public by reducing environmental and water quality impacts associated with coal mining. The improvements to this permit demonstrate once again that the health, waters and environment of coalfield communities can be protected while also preserving the jobs and economic benefits. EPA will continue to coordinate with the mining community, the public, and other state and federal partners in the review of proposed surface coal mines in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.