Since the beginning of 2009 the EPA has reviewed 178 proposed coal mines and only signed-off on 48, including 2 mountian top mines approved at the beginning of January. This new, stricter approach is creating quite a controversy – particularly where mountain top mining is concerned. Currently the EPA is trying to provide guidance and clarify requirements while they continue to review permits.
On March 26th, the EPA released a press release stating that they are considering a veto for a mountain top mining permit that was issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the largest ever mountain top mine, which is located in the Coal River Basin area of West Virginia. The EPA has veto authority, but only has used this authority twelve times in nearly 40 years and never before for project that already has been permitted.
Despite the controversy, the EPA is mandated to ensure water quality and has valid concerns. In letters to the Army Corps of Engineers , the EPA expressed it’s concerns that not all relevant information was included during initial consideration of the permit, that sufficient valley fill minimization techniques were not incorporated, and that the operation will contribute to the substantial cumulative impacts in the area, including covering up of 7 miles of stream bed. The EPA and operator of the proposed mine have discussed the issue but failed to come to an agreement and the Army Corps of Engineers has refused to re-evaluate the permit – hence the EPA’s consideration of the veto. The EPA has put their proposed review out for public comment and then will be reviewing comments received and making a final decision whether or not to veto the project.
This is why we have an agency tasked with ensuring water quality. It may not be popular with everyone, but due to their nature mountain top mines damage streams through valley fill activities and the lands are particularly problematic to restore. It is possible for such a project to have irreversible impacts and if this project is not a good one then it should be vetoed and sent back to the drawing board.