August 11, 2009
Contact: Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, 512-289-8618
Army Corps of Engineers Approves Permit for Controversial
WV Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine
Decision opens the door for more destruction in Appalachia
Charleston, West Virginia Today the public learned that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a Clean Water Act permit last week for Consol Energy’s Peg Fork mountaintop removal coal mine in Mingo County, West Virginia. This controversial decision marks the first time during the Obama administration that the Army Corps approved a mine permit to which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had previously objected, opening the door for many new mountaintop removal coal mines in Appalachia. The decision to allow this operation to proceed also demonstrates the Department of Interior's lack of will to enforce the clear mandates of a critical Surface Mining Act regulation.
"We are disappointed that the administration has approved a new mountaintop removal mine without making any commitment to adopt new regulations or policies that would end this destructive practice," said Ed Hopkins, Director of Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program. "While we appreciate that the Obama administration is taking a harder look at mountaintop removal coal mining, unless that results in decisions that end the irreversible destruction of streams, the harder look isn’t going to do the job."
"We are not willing to sacrifice our homes to the potential of flooding from a mountaintop removal coal mine," said Mingo County resident Wilma Steele. "The Army Corps should protect our homes from being washed away."
The permit would violate the Surface Mining Act as well as the Clean Water Act. This mining operation would be impermissible under the Surface Mining Act's buffer zone rule, which protects intermittent and perennial streams. The Department of Interior, therefore, has the duty to use the buffer zone rule to prevent giant stream destruction projects like those at the Peg Fork mine from going forward.
"The Department of Interior's continuing failure to force the mining industry to comply with the buffer zone rule is a reminder that it is business as usual at Interior," said Joe Lovett, of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment. Lovett called for Secretary Ken Salazar to "reverse the Bush Administration's refusal to enforce the Surface Mining Act and to protect our irreplaceable streams."
Earlier this year, the EPA conducted a review of 48 applications then pending before the Army Corps for Clean Water Act permits to fill streams. At the end of its review, the EPA identified the Peg Fork mine and five other mines as projects of high concern, and instructed the Army Corps to not issue those permits.
Following the EPA’s review, the Army Corps revised Consol Energy's permit for this mountaintop removal mine and issued the permit on Friday, August 7. But the revised permit still fails to satisfy the requirements for permits issued under the Clean Water Act. The original permit application proposed mining over 800 acres of mountainous terrain and dumping mining waste into eight valley fills and over 3 miles of streams. The revised permit that received EPA approval still allows two valley fills immediately, with the potential for up to six additional valley fills if EPA is satisfied with the results of downstream water quality monitoring from the initial fills. Even with these alterations, the Peg Fork mine would still have unacceptable adverse impacts on local waterways and therefore violates the Clean Water Act.
The Peg Fork permit decision comes just as the EPA begins the process of reviewing more than 80 applications for Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop removal mining under the coordinated review process announced by the Obama administration in June. Mining companies have already buried close to 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams beneath piles of toxic waste and debris. Entire communities have been permanently displaced by mines the size of Manhattan.
"The Obama administration needs to commit to ending the devastation caused to our communities by mountaintop removal. The time to make that commitment is now," said Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch. "We can not live through another generation of permits that will bury hundreds more miles of streams and blast apart our mountains."
"Science and the law are at odds with this permit decision," said Janet Keating of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "In my opinion, the Corps' decision to issue this and other permits boils down to political pressure from coal-friendly legislators."
"A big part of the problem is that the Obama administration is still operating under the failed and broken regulations adopted during the Bush administration," said Joan Mulhern of the environmental law firm Earthjustice. "The White House and the agencies can and should immediately initiate the process for changing those regulations and restoring the environmental protections that existed prior to 2001."
"This week, newly appointed Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy begins to oversee the Army Corps’ permitting divisions, and she has the opportunity to take bold action on mountaintop removal coal mining," said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. "The Corps has shown an inexplicable eagerness to permit new mountaintop removal mining, but we hope that Assistant Secretary Darcy's leadership will mean more protections for the communities, streams and mountains of Appalachia."