State of Green Business

EPA Warns Army Corps of Engineers of Possible Harm to Water in Coal Mining

EPA Warns Army Corps of Engineers of Possible Harm to Water in Coal Mining

The EPA put the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers on notice yesterday of concerns about possible damage to water in two new surface coal mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky.

The EPA issued its comments in letters to the corps  to express "serous concerns" about the need to reduce the potential harmful impacts on water quality as a result of the mining.

"The two letters reflect EPA's considerable concern regarding the environmental impact these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement.

The agency said it would like to meet with the corps and the mining companies seeking the permits to discuss alternatives that would better protect streams, wetlands and rivers. The corps issues Clean Water Act permits for proposed surface coal mining operations that affect streams, wetlands and other waters. The act requires the EPA to review proposed permits and provide comments to the corps when necessary to ensure that permits fully protect water quality.

"I have directed the agency to review other mining permit requests," Jackson also said. "EPA will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment."

EPA will be reviewing permits that have been stalled following litigation before the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Fourth Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Va. Last month, a Fourth Circuit panel overturned a district court ruling that the corps had improperly issued permits for mountaintop removal to enable surface mining. The decision by the appeals court, a setback for environmentalists, created a log jam of permits awaiting review.

In a further statement last night, the EPA clarified its actions after what it said were "reports that mischaracterize" the agency's actions.

"The Environmental Protection Agency is not halting, holding or placing a moratorium on any of the mining permit applications," EPA Press Secretary Adora Andy said in the statement. "Plain and simple."

Regarding the backlogged cases, Andy said, "We fully anticipate that the bulk of these pending permit applications will not raise environmental concerns. In cases where a permit does raise environmental concerns, we will work expeditiously with the Army Corps of Engineers to determine how these concerns can be addressed."