August 10, 2009
Army Corps of Engineers Approves Permit for Controversial
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 the Army Corps approved a mine permit to which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had previously objected, opening the door for potentially dozens of new mountaintop removal coal mines in Appalachia.
"While we appreciate that the Obama administration is taking a harder look at mountaintop removal coal mining, we are disappointed that the administration has approved a new mountaintop removal mine without making any commitment to adopt new regulations that would end this destructive practice," said Ed Hopkins, Director of Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program.
Earlier this year, the EPA conducted a review of 48 applications then pending before the Army Corps for permits to fill streams under section 404 of the Clean Water Act. 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. Between late March and early April, the EPA sent notice letters to the Army Corps highlighting the agency’s significant concerns with the impacts to local waterways and the surrounding environment that would follow should the Army Corps issue the requested permits to Consol Energy and the five other mining companies.
Following the EPA’s review, the Army Corps revised Consol Energy's permit application for this mountaintop removal mine, but the revised application still fails to satisfy the requirements for permits issued under section 404 of 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 nearly 3 miles of streams. The revised permit, which ultimately received EPA approval, calls for two valley fills, with the potential for 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.
"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 decision comes as the EPA begins the process of reviewing 80-plus applications for Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop removal mining under the coordinated review process announced by the Obama administration in June. To date, mining companies have buried close to 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams beneath piles of toxic waste and debris. Entire communities have been permanently displaced or obliterated by mines the size of Manhattan.
This week, newly appointed Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy begins oversight of the Army Corps' mine permitting divisions, and she has the opportunity to take bold action on mountaintop removal coal mining.
"The Army Corps of Engineers, perhaps because of heavy-handed political pressure from West Virginia politicians, seems eager to permit new mountaintop removal mining. We’ll reserve judgment on Assistant Secretary Darcy's leadership which could possibly signal some protections for the communities, streams and mountains of Appalachia," said Janet Keating with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in West Virginia.