Coal Tattoo

EPA objects to another mountaintop removal permit


While two other permit objection letters sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday earned a spot in an EPA news release — and therefore widespread press coverage — EPA also objected to a third permit, according to documents I just got from the Corps District in Huntington.

This letter, also sent Monday, objected that an expansion of Colony Bay Coal Company’s Colony Bay Surface Mine near Wharton in Boone County, W.Va., would harm downstream aquatic life, violate water quality standards, and cause forest fragmentation and habitat loss.

355px-united_states_army_corps_of_engineers_logosvg.pngEPA warned the Corps that the permit should not be issued before a complete Environmental Impact Statement is conducted.

I’ve posted the EPA letter here, and the Corps original public notice for the permit is posted here.

Thanks to the folks at the Corps for providing it. So far, EPA officials have not returned my e-mails and phone calls seeking comment. EPA has also not responded to my repeated requests for a list of the permits that they want to examine more closely.

According to the EPA letter, this Colony Bay permit is for a nearly 2-square-mile mine that includes four valley fills that would bury about 1 mile of streams in the Little Coal River watershed, which already “contains the largest number of impaired stream miles in the Central Appalachian Eco-region in West Virginia.” Streams in the watershed — including Skin Poplar Branch, Spruce Laurel Fork and the Little Coal — have all been listed by the state Department of Environmental Protection as impaired for mining-related pollutants, including iron, aluminum and sediment, EPA said.

But the four valley fills proposed by this mine are located in forested areas that have not been previously disturbed by mining activities, according to the EPA letter.

“As these [other] streams [in the watershed] are all impaired it is important to protect the remaining  forested headwater streams in the project area so as to continue to offer clean, freshwater dilution to downstream receiving waters to maintain the overall health and vitality of the larger watershed,” EPA said in its letter. “In addition to the importance of headwater streams these large tracts of intact forested areas are also vitally important.”