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Press Room:  For Immediate Release 
Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – January 5, 2010

Contact: Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, (512) 477-2152

Environmental Protection Agency Approves Permit for Controversial WV Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine

Decision opens the door for more destruction in Appalachia

Charleston, West Virginia -- Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would sign off on a Clean Water Act permit for Patriot Coal Corp.'s Hobet 45 mountaintop removal coal mine in Lincoln County, West Virginia. This controversial permit now goes to the Army Corps of Engineers, which issues such permits.

This decision highlights the urgent need for the U.S. EPA to protect streams from mining waste by revising Clean Water Act regulations gutted by the Bush Administration. The Sierra Club and other national and local environmental groups encourage the Obama Administration to begin a rulemaking to exclude mining waste from the definition of ‘fill’ as a material that can be dumped in waters of the United States.

This decision marks the first mountaintop removal mining permit to move forward of those mining permits the agency earlier identified in 2009 as needing additional attention.

"Sadly, the coal industry’s undue influence over decision-makers has traded people’s health, communities, and water for profit," said Janet Keating, Executive Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "We’re shooting ourselves in the future. After all the coal has been mined, what kind of economic development can happen when the water is unfit to drink and people have been driven away?"

The permit would allow Patriot to mine through more than three miles of streams, and to add millions of cubic yards of fill to existing valley fills offsite.

"We, the affected citizens that are living with the impacts of this destructive mining practice, pray that this decision is not a preview of other destructive mining permits being approved," said Judy Bonds with Coal River Mountain Watch. "We certainly hope this is the last destructive permit approved that will allow the coal industry to continue to blast our homes and pollute our streams."

In 2009 the EPA announced that it would conduct an enhanced review of dozens of permits to fill and otherwise destroy streams for mountaintop removal coal mining, including the Hobet 45 permit.

"Allowing this newest addition to the over 25 square miles of devastation at the Hobet complex to proceed makes one seriously question if EPA is truly interested in making a real difference," said Cindy Rank, chair of the mining committee at West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

"While we understand that this short term deal means more mining and destruction but also the extension of employment to mine workers, we know that mountaintop removal coal mining is not a long-term economic strategy for Appalachia," said Bill Price, environmental justice organizer for the Sierra Club in West Virginia. "As Senator Byrd of West Virginia said last month, it is mechanization and the demand for coal that have eliminated jobs in West Virginia, and it's time to adapt to change and to embrace clean energy solutions."

Even with these alterations, the Hobet 45 mine would still have unacceptable adverse impacts on local waterways and therefore violates the Clean Water Act. 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 rings in the new year by allowing coal companies to bury more miles of streams," said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice. "There is no excuse for approving this permit when the science is clear that mountaintop removal coal mining permanently destroys streams. The administration claims to be making progress on mountaintop removal, but in reality they are still following the flawed policies put in place by the Bush administration. It is time for them to make a commitment to ending this abominable practice."

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