Today’s big summit between federal regulators and West Virginia coal operators was supposed to be a chance for the Obama administration to explain its expectations for strip-mining permits to the industry.
— Mullins said the Corps’ Huntington District plans to start having meetings on the second Tuesday of every month to discuss permit issues with specific companies. She explained:
We are going to have early meetings with all the coal companies on new projects, before the mining plans are made, at the earliest point … The goal at the meeting is that when you leave, you will know what is required.
One wonders, though, if the Corps — or any other federal or state agency — plans monthly meetings with people who live near these mining operations, or with outside environmental experts who can talk about societal values other than getting permits approved and coal moving.
— Lapp said that EPA is going to be looking closely to ensure that mining permits meet the Clean Water Act’s requirement that stream impacts be minimized and that waters not be “significantly degraded.” He explained:
Are there alternative disposal areas? Can you avoid putting fill and overburden in streams?
Lapp said EPA will also be requiring stronger pollution monitoring plans, and pushing for “sequencing” of valley fill approvals — through which one or two fills might be approved, and further fill authorizations at the same site dependent upon the results of downstream monitoring of the initially approved fills. Lapp said EPA knows this is a change, and may not be one that the industry particularly likes:
That may not be a palatable situation from your perspective, but from the agency’s perspective, I need to push back a little bit … Some of the things we’re looking for may not blend or mesh with what you originally received permits for.
— Finally, it was interesting that the Obama administration — while it certainly didn’t invite citizen groups to attend or speak at the event — essentially gave Jason Bostic of the West Virginia Coal Association the last word, allowing him to respond once the three government speakers were done. Here’s some video of Jason’s comments: