Coal Tattoo

Manchin renews attacks on EPA over mining permits

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This just in from the good folks over at MetroNews … West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin says he’s going to get “very boisterous” over efforts by the Obama administration to make sure mountaintop removal mining permits comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

Here’s the lead of their story:

Governor Joe Manchin says he could see the EPA action on Arch Coal’s Spruce Number 1 mine coming soon after Secretary Lisa Jackson took over as head of the federal agency. 

“They’re on a mission and I think it’s an ill-advised mission,” said an agitated Manchin. “It’s not only not good for West Virginia, it’s not good for this country.”

Manchin was apparently asked to respond to the EPA’s letter to the Corps of Engineers urging the Corps to revoke permit for Arch Coal Inc.’s Spruce No. 1 Mine, the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history.

But check out this quote:

Why do you have the Corps doing the review process?  Why do we have the state doing the initial permitting process,” said Manchin rhetorically. “If there’s just going to usurp everything that’s being done, that is so wrong.” 

OK … I don’t know if it’s Manchin or MetroNews, but somebody here doesn’t understand the Clean Water Act and its implementing regulations.

Why is the Corps doing the permit review process?

Because when it passed the Clean Water Act, Congress specifically gave the Corps authority to handle the processing of applications for Section 404 permits — the “dredge-and-fill” permits that allow mine operators to bury streams with millions of tons of rock and dirt waste from mountaintop removal.

In addition, Congress specifically gave EPA the ability to veto Corps’ decisions to approve 404 permit approvals if EPA determines the proposed actions “will have an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas. ” EPA can also, under certain circumstances, strip the local Corps office of its authority to review a particular permit.

Earlier this year, WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman made similar comments questioning why  EPA was reviewing mountaintop removal permits, and quickly clarified himself.

But if Gov. Manchin doesn’t want the Corps involved, he can take care of that … Section 404(g) allows states to seek permission to run its own 404 permitting program. To do that, all Manchin has to do is submit an application which shows the EPA administrator “a full and complete description of the program it proposes to establish.”

One wonders if the WVDEP really has the resources to do this, even if Manchin really wanted it to, given the agency’s long history of staffing shortages and problems meeting its current legal mandates.

I don’t know how many times Manchin and his staff have told me — when asked if they would step in to respond to citizen complaints about a mining or other environmental permit — that it would be “inappropriate” for the governor to interfere in the regulatory process.

But Manchin told MetroNews Wednesday he intends to gain an audience with top brass at EPA and believes the state’s Congressional Delegation will join him in raising the displeasure of the activities:

I am going to be very boisterous about this I think it’s wrong.”

The governor also told them:

“The approach [Federal officials] are taking, they’re not using good procedures or good scientific data and they’re definitely not using good land-use management.”

Manchin must not have read that memo from WVDEP biologist Doug Wood, which explained that the state’s own studies have detailed serious environmental damage being done by mountaintop removal. In fact, the EPA’s letter to the Corps about the Spruce Mine cited many of those same WVDEP studies.