The results of these analyses, which document use of bad science by EPA, are included in comments NMA filed on the agency’s reports, “The Effects of Mountaintop Mines and Valley Fills on Aquatic Ecosystems of the Central Appalachian Coalfields” and “A Field-based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Central Appalachian Streams.”  

Analyses conducted on NMA’s behalf by GEI Consultants, Inc., and Norwest Corporation found:

The study (Pond-Passmore) EPA relied upon to set new water quality standards for valley fills at coal mining operations in Appalachia found no direct correlation between changes in water quality and aquatic life and the number or location of valley fills;

The EPA failed to establish cause and effect relationships by relying on field data from uncontrolled settings rather than laboratory data—in violation of its own methodology guidelines;

The EPA used too few organisms and relied on those rarely found under any condition to determine that a species is absent from an ecosystem; and  

The EPA incorrectly characterized the findings of scientific research and selectively used conclusions to support various presumptions.

The EPA used these flawed analyses to set a de facto water quality standard for coal mining in Appalachia and is now requiring state and federal agencies to enforce the new standard despite the agency’s own disclaimer to its Science Advisory Board that, “It [the analysis] does not represent and should not be construed to represent any Agency determination or policy.”  

Further, based on the field data, EPA set a specific numeric conductivity limit that lays out the threshold principles that all aquatic water quality criteria must meet. The EPA’s standard methodology requires that cause-and-effect relationships can only be established by measuring the impacts of pollutants on organisms in a controlled laboratory setting. Only in this setting can a determination be made on the threshold at which a pollutant creates a response.  

Accordingly, the EPA’s conductivity criteria for coal mining in Appalachia are invalid as a predictor of biological impairment as well as ecologically irrelevant.

As a result, the EPA’s criteria are not based on “sound scientific rationale” or “scientifically defensible methods,” according to NMA’s comments. NMA concludes that, “Because EPA has disseminated its Conductivity Study without appropriate pre-dissemination review, and because that study is not accurate, reliable and unbiased, the EPA must cease using the Conductivity Study to establish limits in permits under the Clean Water Act.”