The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given a green light for the Pine Creek mine permit, an MTR mining site in Logan County, W.Va. 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.
I hoped that the MTR guidelines would provide protection for headwater streams by curbing the practice of dumping waste in neighboring valleys to create what is known as valley fills. The Pine Creek permit is the first test of these guidelines, and green lights three new valley fills (each over 40 acres large).
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 ecosystems.
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. The grand words being spoken by Administrator Jackson in DC 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.
In announcing the new guidelines in April, Administrator Jackson told reporters: “We expect this guidance to change behaviors, to change actions, because if we keep doing what we have been doing, we’re going to see continued degradation of water quality… Minimizing the number of valley fills is a very, very key factor. You’re talking about no or very few valley fills that are going to be able to meet standards like this.”
The Pine Creek Surface Mine permit will allow Coal-Mac, a subsidiary of coal giant Arch coal, to mine through more than 2 miles of streams that are already suffering dangerous levels of pollution from surface mining. Extensive mountaintop removal mining and the subsequent environmental and water quality damage have already ravaged Logan County W.Va., which is the location of the infamous Spruce mine.
Moving forward, it is clear that the EPA cannot end mountaintop removal coal mining pollution without abolishing mountaintop removal all together.
The Pine Creek permit is currently awaiting approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.