Coal Tattoo

WVDEP and selenium: Stalling or stopping?

Afters years of delays, West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection has taken a small step toward forcing the coal industry to stop violations of the state’s water quality limits for toxic selenium.

tom-clarke21Tom Clarke, director of the WVDEP Division of Mining and Reclamation, has denied 17 requests from mining operations to extend the deadline for them to comply with selenium limits.

In some instances, WVDEP has concluded mine operators have done enough work to try to come into compliance to deserve another extension. In others, WVDEP believes approving the extension would violate the Clean Water Act’s prohibition against “backsliding” on permitted pollution limits.

Sounds pretty good, huh?

Well, wait. There’s more.

It turns not that not all of the public notices issued by WVDEP indicating it planned to approve selenium compliance extensions were sent out in error.

WVDEP plans to approve compliance extensions on at least 14 other mining permits, and public notices on those have gone out — seeking comment before WVDEP finalizes the extensions.

In the meantime, some of the companies that have been turned down by WVDEP have already filed appeals with the state Environmental Quality Board, and are hoping that board suspends the WVDEP denials before the crucial deadline of April 6, 2010. If EQB WVDEP doesn’t, then the permit limits on those operations would become final — and might mean the anti-backsliding provisions of the Clean Water Act would prohibit the mine operators from getting any further extensions.

Stay tuned …

Updated: The EQB has granted the requested stays pending a hearing on the appeals.