The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave the Army Corps of Engineers a green light for the Pine Creek mine permit, a mountaintop removal (MTR) mining site in West Virginia. This is the first permit decision the EPA has issued under the new mountaintop mining guidelines, which came out last April and were anticipated to provide tougher oversight of mountaintop removal coal mining.
The new MTR guidelines were understood to provide greater protection for headwater streams by curbing the practice of dumping waste in neighboring valleys to create what is known as valley fills. It was anticipated that these guidelines, by requiring mining operators
to control levels of toxins in nearby streams, would significantly
reduce the dumping of mining waste in valleys, which the EPA said was
scientifically proven to contaminate drinking water and wreck
The Pine Creek permit is the first test of these guidelines, and green lights three new valley fills (each over 40 acres large). According to a story in the Charleston Gazette Coal-Mac, a subsidiary of coal giant Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI), has taken steps to reduce the impact on surface streams, and the EPA has requested that the mining company executes only one valley fill at a time so that it can be better monitored.
However, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) strongly criticized the EPA decision: “This is a devastating first decision under guidelines that had offered so much hope for Appalachian residents who thought the EPA was standing up for their health and water quality in the face of a horrific mining practice,” said Amanda Starbuck of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). “The grand words being spoken by Administrator Jackson in Washington are simply not being reflected in the EPA’s actions on-the-ground. This continues the inconsistent and contradictory decisions that have plagued the EPA’s process on mountaintop removal coal mining all along.”
The Pine Creek permit is currently awaiting approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.
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