Coal Tattoo

Coal River Mountain — Permit appeal hearing Tuesday


The battle over  the future of  Coal River Mountain moves from on-site protests to courtroom legal arguments Tuesday.

Folks who are interested in this growing controversy over whether the area’s ridges should be a strip mine or a wind-energy facility might will want to follow what happens at an upcoming hearing before the state Surface Mine Board.

The board has scheduled a hearing for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in Charleston on an appeal filed over the state Department of Environmental Protection’s approval of a permit for Massey Energy subsidiary Marfork Coal’s proposed mountaintop removal operation at the Bee Tree Surface Mine site.

The permit appeal itself doesn’t really have much to do with efforts by environmental groups to promote the Raleigh County site for a wind-energy facility.

Instead, citizen groups are appealing the DEP approval of a permit change needed by Massey before it can begin mining. Joe Lovett, a lawyer for environmental groups, said the permit change appeared aimed at allowing Marfork to begin mining the Bee Tree site before it obtains a federal Clean Water Act permit needed if it wanted to dump that waste in an on-site valley fill. The Sierra Club and Coal River Mountain Watch plan to argue in their appeal that Marfork did not properly revise its mining and reclamation plan to meet the state’s approximate original contour formula and minimize environmental damage.

Testifying for citizen groups at the hearing will be John Morgan, a mining engineer who helped write the state’s AOC formula as part of a settlement of one of the federal court lawsuits over mountaintop removal.  If you’ve been following mountaintop removal issues for a while, you’ll recall that DEP had for years simply been ignoring the AOC rule, and the lack of enforcement wasn’t picked up on by the federal Office of Surface Mining until our series of Gazette articles on the issue.

The Coal River Mountain Wind project continues to generate attention, most recently with a commentary by noted climatologist James E. Hansen. More on the controversy, and last week’s protest, at Facing South, It’s Getting Hot in Here, and the Huffington Post.

Tuesday’s hearing will be held in the appeals hearing room at DEP’s headquarters in Kanawha City.