Will this EPA effort go far enough to protect against the devistation to the environment and communities caused by mountain top removal or is it a bandaid on a gushing wound?
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "Makuch, Joseph" <Joseph.Makuch@ars.usda.gov>
Date: Apr 1, 2010 1:32 PM
Subject: [ENVIRO-NEWS] EPA Issues Comprehensive Guidance to Protect Appalachian Communities From Harmful Environmental Impacts of Mountain Top Mining
From: U.S. EPA [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, April 01, 2010 1:18 PM
Subject: Water News Release (HQ): EPA Issues Comprehensive Guidance to
Protect Appalachian Communities From Harmful Environmental Impacts of
Mountain Top Mining
EPA Press Office
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 1, 2010
EPA Issues Comprehensive Guidance to Protect Appalachian Communities
From Harmful Environmental Impacts of Mountain Top Mining
Guidance provides additional clarity and ensures stronger protection at
projects in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today
announced a set of actions to further clarify and strengthen
environmental permitting requirements for Appalachian mountaintop
removal and other surface coal mining projects, in coordination with
federal and state regulatory agencies. Using the best available science
and following the law, the comprehensive guidance sets clear benchmarks
for preventing significant and irreversible damage to Appalachian
watersheds at risk from mining activity.
Mountaintop removal is a form of surface coal mining in which explosives
are used to access coal seams, generating large volumes of waste that
bury adjacent streams. The resulting waste that then fills valleys and
streams can significantly compromise water quality, often causing
permanent damage to ecosystems and rendering streams unfit for swimming,
fishing and drinking. It is estimated that almost 2,000 miles of
Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal
"The people of Appalachia shouldn't have to choose between a clean,
healthy environment in which to raise their families and the jobs they
need to support them. That's why EPA is providing even greater clarity
on the direction the agency is taking to confront pollution from
mountain top removal," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "We will
continue to work with all stakeholders to find a way forward that
follows the science and the law. Getting this right is important to
Americans who rely on affordable coal to power homes and businesses, as
well as coal communities that count on jobs and a livable environment,
both during mining and after coal companies move to other sites."
* Improved Guidance and Clarity: EPA is communicating
comprehensive guidance to its regional offices with permitting
responsibility in Appalachian states. The guidance clarifies existing
requirements of the Section 402 and 404 Clean Water Act permitting
programs that apply to pollution from surface coal mining operations in
streams and wetlands. The guidance details EPA's responsibilities and
how the agency uses its Clean Water Act (CWA) authorities to ensure that
future mining will not cause significant environmental, water quality
and human health impacts. EPA also expects this information will provide
improved consistency and predictability in the CWA permitting process
and help to strengthen coordination with other federal and state
regulatory agencies and mining companies.
* Strong Science: EPA is making publicly available two
scientific reports prepared by its Office of Research and Development
(ORD). One summarizes the aquatic impacts of mountaintop mining and
valley fills. The second report establishes a scientific benchmark for
unacceptable levels of conductivity (a measure of water pollution from
mining practices) that threaten stream life in surface waters. These
reports are being published for public comment and submitted for peer
review to the EPA Science Advisory Board.
* Increased transparency: EPA is creating a permit
tracking Web site so that the public can determine the status of mining
permits subject to the EPA-U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Enhanced
Coordination Procedure (ECP).
A growing body of scientific literature, including previous and new
studies performed by EPA, show significant damage to local streams that
are polluted with the mining runoff from mountaintop removal. To protect
water quality, EPA has identified a range of conductivity (a measure of
the level of salt in the water) of 300 to 500 microSiemens per
centimeter. The maximum benchmark conductivity of 500 microSiemens per
centimeter is a measure of salinity that is roughly five times above
normal levels. The conductivity levels identified in the clarifying
guidance are intended to protect 95 percent of aquatic life and fresh
water streams in central Appalachia.
EPA will solicit public comments on the new guidance. The guidance will
be effective immediately on an interim basis. EPA will decide whether to
modify the guidance after consideration of public comments and the
results of the SAB technical review of the EPA scientific reports.
The EPA guidance identifies improvements in mining practices and
operations that will reduce adverse impacts on water quality. EPA will
continue to work with coal companies that are interested in modifying
their projects to reduce their environmental footprint and prevent harm
to water quality and human health. Earlier this year, EPA approved the
Hobet 45 permit in West Virginia. Working with the mining company, EPA
was able to reduce stream impacts by almost 50 percent and minimize mine
runoff into surface waters. Those changes helped permanently protect
local waters, maximize coal recovery and reduce costs for the operators.
In contrast, EPA recently proposed to significantly restrict or prohibit
mountaintop mining at the Spruce No. 1 surface mine in Logan County, W.
Va. Attempts at dialogue with the company failed to ensure a significant
decrease of environmental and water quality impacts from the project.
The Spruce No. 1 mine, as proposed, would bury more than seven miles of
headwater streams, directly impact 2,278 acres of forestland, and
degrade water quality in streams adjacent to the mine. The project was
permitted in 2007 and subsequently delayed by litigation.
EPA's guidance offers recommendations to its regions on the application
of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to surface coal mining
projects permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps is
separately announcing plans for rulemaking to expand the scope of NEPA
review. EPA is supportive of this effort and will work closely with the
All the documents: http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/guidance/mining.html
Fact Sheet on EPA Guidance and Scientific Reports
Additional Comprehensive Guidance
EPA is issuing comprehensive guidance clarifying the standards that its
regional offices should apply in permitting reviews of Appalachian
surface coal mining projects under the Clean Water Act (CWA). This
guidance directs EPA field staff to coordinate with their federal and
state regulatory partners to strengthen the environmental review of new
Appalachian surface coal mining projects and to improve protection of
the communities' local water and environment. More specifically, the
* Incorporates the latest scientific information in
clarifying how CWA permits should assure compliance with existing water
quality standards to protect the use of streams by communities and to
ensure healthy aquatic life.
* Clarifies how CWA requirements apply to the disposal
of mining overburden in streams to reduce the size and number of valley
fills, to limit water quality contamination of streams near mining
operations, and to prevent significant environmental degradation of
streams and wetlands.
* Improves opportunities for the voices of adversely
affected Appalachian communities to be heard in the process of reviewing
proposed new mining operations.
EPA Releases Two Draft Scientific Reports for Public Comment
* Field-Based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity
This draft report adapts EPA's traditional approach for developing water
quality criteria to field data in central Appalachia in order to develop
a conductivity benchmark protective of stream life in Appalachian
surface waters. Conductivity is a measure of the level of salinity
(salt) in the water. There are mining materials that are dumped or
runoff into water that can raise the salinity level that turns fresh
water into salty water. When this happens, living organisms have
difficulty surviving because they cannot tolerate the high salinity
The draft report makes the following conclusions:
* The salinity of water has been shown to
negatively affect aquatic organisms (stream life).
* By plotting the conductivity levels at which
organisms are no longer observed in streams, we can determine a level of
conductivity that results in their loss. EPA identified a benchmark of
300 microSiemens per cm (units of conductivity) that protects 95 percent
of aquatic organisms living in streams in central Appalachia.
* EPA derived this benchmark using more than
2,000 field samples collected in West Virginia. These results were
validated using data from Kentucky.
* Although the method is applicable to any
region, the value 300 is only applicable to Central Appalachian streams
containing the types of salts found in those streams.
* Additional analyses demonstrate that the
observed effects on the aquatic community are due types of salts that
are consistent with minerals leached from mountaintop mining operations
and not to other variables that were evaluated.
* Mountaintop Mining / Valley Fill Impacts Report
EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) conducted a literature
review of peer-reviewed studies focusing on aquatic environmental and
water quality impacts of mountaintop mining and valley fills. The draft
report among other conclusions, found:
* Burial of headwater streams by valley
fills causes permanent loss of ecosystems.
* Concentrations of salts as measured by
conductivity are, on average, 10 times higher downstream of mountaintop
mines and valley fills than in un-mined watersheds.
* The increased levels of salts disrupt
the life cycle of freshwater aquatic organisms and some cannot live in
* Water with high salt concentrations
downstream of mountaintop mines and valley fills is toxic to stream
organisms. To date, there is no evidence that streams that undergo a
restoration process have returned to their normal ecological functions
after the mining is completed.
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