Coal Tattoo

Park Service to DEP: Just say no to mining permit

The National Park Service is urging state regulators not to renew a permit for a mountaintop removal permit for Powellton Coal’s Bridge Fork West Surface Mine, located near the towns of Jodie and Ansted in Fayette County, W.Va.

Local Park Service Superintendent Don Striker told DEP in a January 22 letter that “extensive violations” of water pollution limits by the mine “causes us great concern for potential threats” to the New River Gorge National River and the Gauley River National Recreation Area.

Striker continued:

…Powellton has been exceeding permit limits for discharge for daily and monthly averages at an extremely high frequency, registering a substantial number of violations of multiple parameters including suspended solids, iron, manganese and aluminum.

These pollutants pose a threat to aquatic life and human welfare. Precipitates of aluminum, iron and manganese can coat stream bottom substrate limiting the available habitat for aquatic life, suspended solids are also harmful to aquatic life through the erosion of gills, and aluminum is known to be toxic to aquatic life, and has been associated with neurological and bone diseases in humans.

The frequency of exceeding permit limits indicates a lack of commitment on the part of the permittee to employ adequate controls that will limit the impacts of this operation on downstream resources.

In opposing the Powellton permit renewal, Striker joins more than 3,600 people who signed a petition to DEP. (Powellton, by the way, is part of the Fola Coal Co. assets that were purchased by CONSOL Energy).

Mining in this part of the state has started to get more and more attention, including a lengthy article in Smithsonian magazine by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John McQuaid:

Now coal is back, with a different approach: demolishing mountains instead of drilling into them, a method known as mountaintop coal removal. One project is dismantling the backside of Gauley Mountain, the town’s signature topographical feature, methodically blasting it apart layer by layer and trucking off the coal to generate electricity and forge steel. Gauley is fast becoming a kind of Potemkin peak—whole on one side, hollowed out on the other. Some Ansted residents support the project, but in a twist of local history, many people, former miners included, oppose it, making the town an improbable battleground in the struggle to meet the nation’s rising energy needs.

The online version of the article drew a response from one of the coal company’s engineers, who said:

I know the area, know the mine and know Ansted. What a shame that the article was written without a site visit, a mine visit or even an attempt to talk to the company. It is always the same story from the same group. About the only truth in this one is that some of the people in the area support the mining and that the whinybutts don’t know where their electricity comes from. They have lied about viewsheds, about park boundaries, about flooding in the town and about the “cancerous scars” that are caused by the process. I only hope that one day, people will open their eyes. Grandpa gave me good advise; believe nothing that you hear and half of what you see, find out the truth!

Derek Teaney, a lawyer with the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment,  warned DEP in a Jan. 20 letter that Powellton’s water pollution violations prevent the agency from renewing its permit. Under the law, Teaney explained, DEP can’t renew the permit unless agency officials conclude the company is in compliance with the terms of its existing permits.

Already, Teaney was suing Powellton in federal court over its water pollution violations, on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Ansted Historic Preservation Council.

At Teaney’s request, DEP scheduled an “informal conference” — DEP-speak for a public hearing — tonight to take citizen comments on the permit renewal matter.  The hearing is 6 p.m. at the Ansted Middle School.