Jan 13, 2011

EPA Halts Disposal of Mining Waste at West Virginia Coal Mine

Agency said waste would adversely affect water quality and wildlife

After extensive scientific study, a major public hearing in West Virginia and review of more than 50,000 public comments, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will use its authority under the Clean Water Act to halt the proposed disposal of mining waste in streams at the Mingo-Logan Coal Co.’s Spruce No. 1 coal mine. EPA is acting under the law and using the best science to protect water quality, wildlife and Appalachian communities, who rely on clean waters for drinking, fishing and swimming. EPA has used this Clean Water Act authority in just 12 circumstances since 1972 and says it reserves this authority for only unacceptable cases. This permit was first proposed in the 1990s and has been held up in the courts ever since.

EPA’s final determination on the Spruce Mine comes after discussions with the company spanning more than a year failed to produce an agreement that would lead to a significant decrease in impacts to the environment and Appalachian communities. The action prevents the mine from disposing of the waste into streams unless the company identifies an alternative mining design that would avoid irreversible damage to water quality and meets the requirements of the law. The EPA said it was willing to consider alternatives, but Mingo Logan did not offer any new proposed mining configurations in response to EPA’s Recommended Determination.

EPA’s decision to stop mining waste discharges to high quality streams at the Spruce No. 1 mine was based on several major environmental and water quality concerns. According to EPA, the proposed mine project would have buried miles of high-quality streams in Logan County, W.Va., affecting downstream water quality and damaging ecosystems.

EPA’s decision prohibits five proposed valley fills in two streams, Pigeonroost Branch and Oldhouse Branch, and their tributaries. Mining activities at the Spruce site are underway in Seng Camp Creek as a result of a prior agreement reached in the active litigation with Mingo Logan. EPA’s Final Determination does not affect current mining in Seng Camp Creek.