In a second action, the Federal District Court in Southern West Virginia will extend the court-established deadline to respond to Arch Coal’s earlier request to end the litigation on the proposed Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County until early March. The EPA asked for the extension to determine if a revised mining plan can be developed that will comply with the CWA. In the meantime, no additional mining operations may occur at the site.
The Spruce No. 1 mine is one of the largest proposed mountaintop mines and it has been delayed for more than 10 years by citizen suits alleging the mine does not meet the requirements of federal laws. The current Clean Water Act permit for Spruce No. 1 has been held up in federal court since it was issued in 2007. Hobet 45 and Spruce No. 1 are two of 79 permits the agency has held in limbo for the last four months. The coal industry asked the EPA to provide direction on the permitting process during
October and the agency finally responded in January.
“These are important examples of the EPA’s work to bring clarity to this process. Our role, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, is to ensure that mining companies avoid environmental degradation and protect water quality so that Appalachian communities don’t have to choose between jobs and their health,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Working closely with mining companies, our federal and state partners, and the public, our goal is to ensure Americans living in coal country are protected from environmental, health and economic damage.” In a press release, the EPA said that Appalachian coal mining has buried an estimated 2,000 miles of streams in states including West Virginia.
The EPA advised the Army Corps of Engineers that, as a result of changes agreed to by Hobet Mining after discussions with the EPA, the Hobet 45 mine now meets the requirements of the CWA, clearing the way for a final permit. The agency said that it worked closely with Hobet Mining and the Corps to redesign the proposed Hobet 45 mine to eliminate nearly 50% of stream impacts, reduce anticipated stream contamination, and protect public health.
As originally proposed, the EPA claimed that the Hobet 45 mine would have buried nearly 6 miles of headwater streams and contaminated downstream waters. The agency recommended the following changes:
- Reduce stream impacts by more than 16,000 linear feet;
- Require that contaminated mine drainage be directed away from surface waters;
- Ensure more effective compensation for environmental losses;
- Establish an adaptive management plan to further protect water quality; and
- Protect highly productive streams on the mine site.
Patriot Coal announced that the Army Corps of Engineers had finalized its evaluation process and issued the Hobet 45 permit under Section 404 of the CWA. “We are pleased that we can now begin work in the permitted area. Production at the Hobet mine is very important to Patriot, our employees, and the surrounding community,” said Patriot CEO Richard M. Whiting. “We appreciate the work done by the EPA and the Corps to achieve this result. We would also like to acknowledge the efforts of Congressman Nick J. Rahall, Governor Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Congressional delegation, and our locally elected representatives in support of a constructive dialogue with the EPA and the Corps that led to the issuance of this permit.”
The Hobet surface mine is part of the company’s Corridor G mining complex in southern West Virginia. At full production capability, the complex produces nearly 4 million tons of coal annually.