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PHILADELPHIA - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a comprehensive unified federal plan to regulate mountaintop coal mining and associated valley fills in Appalachia that will permit surface mines, but will substantially improve the way mountaintop mining is carried out to protect valley streams and other environmental resources.
The proposal, developed by four federal agencies, for the first time ever will require an overall environmental assessment of all surface mines with a valley fill draining more than 250 acres. EPA participated in the development of an inter-agency agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and two branches of the U. S. Interior Department, the Office of Surface Mining and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Under the new plan, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to joint environmental review of new mining operations and valley fills under the Clean Water Act. According to W. Michael McCabe, administrator of EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, "Large surface mines will now have to undergo an exhaustive environmental assessment before they can be permitted. The comprehensive, unified federal plan will ensure that all the environmental impacts can be limited, and those that do occur will be properly mitigated."
Central to the unified policy is a comprehensive environmental impact assessment to be conducted by the four federal agencies, with cooperation from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and other Appalachian States. The conclusions of the environmental impact statement, which the agencies intend to issue in two years, will guide the federal government on long-term changes to regulations, policies and guidelines governing mountaintop mining and valley fills. Today’s agreement sets interim reforms to streamline and regulate mining permits until a full environmental impact statement is issued. (see attached fact sheet at http://www.epa.gov/region3/r3pol/hobfact.pdf)
On the basis of this federal interagency commitment to require significantly better environmental reviews and protection measures for mining projects, the West Virginia plaintiffs have agreed to settle their lawsuit against the federal government in the case Bragg et al. V. Robertson, et al.
The EPA also announced today that it has won major concessions from Arch Coal, Inc. to protect the environment, and therefore would lift objections to a water discharge permit for the Spruce No.1 surface mine in Logan County, W.Va. That mine will be operated by Hobet Mining Co., a subsidiary of Arch, a St. Louis, Mo. company.
"This permit requires significant concessions from Hobet. We conducted the most thorough environmental review of any mining permit in West Virginia history. Armed with extensive field data, we were able to require the company to dramatically scale back its operations, and to perform projects that will benefit the local environment," McCabe explained.
To obtain the EPA permit, Hobet was required to scale back by about 40 percent the buried streams at Spruce No. 1 Mine, from 12 acres of stream buried to only 7.4 acres. Hobet also agreed to eliminate two of five proposed valley fills and shrink two others. The company agreed to reduce by 1,200 acres the drainage area impacted by valley fills. That’s a 41 percent reduction. Furthermore, Hobet’s Clean Water Act permit to discharge from the site is limited to only five of the 13 years that Hobet originally anticipated mining at Spruce No. 1.
In addition to significant concessions in the size and scope of its Hobet mine, Arch Coal has agreed to several extensive reclamation projects, including planting 15,000 hardwood trees, establishing a habitat for the endangered Indiana Bat, and providing 280 acres of forest in Chief Logan State Park. The coal company also will construct four acres of perennial stream on its number 21 site and another nine acres of stream on its Dal-Tex site.
Finally, Arch Coal will provide fisheries habitat for a total of 14, 000 feet of the Coal River at three or more stretches. The company will work closely with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources as it develops these projects.
"Getting to this point has been a time-consuming process because reform takes time, trust, and cooperation. In addition to our federal and state partners, as well as the plaintiffs, I also want to acknowledge the constructive contributions made to resolve these issues by West Virginia’s congressional delegation, especially the offices of Senator Byrd, Representative Rahall and Representative Wise," said McCabe.
For more information see the following links:
The Regional Administrator's Letter to the Citizens of West Virginia: http://www.epa.gov/region3/r3pol/hcitizen.pdf
The Fact Sheet: http://www.epa.gov/region3/r3pol/hobfact.pdf
The Settlement Agreement: http://www.epa.gov/region3/r3pol/hsettle.pdf
The Withdrawal of Objection to the Hobet Mines Permit: http://www.epa.gov/region3/r3pol/hwithdraw.pdf