Coal Tattoo

Corps suspends streamlined mining permits

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today announced that it was eliminating the streamlined permitting process for surface coal-mining operations in Appalachia.

Corps officials had previously proposed this move as part of the Obama administration’s  “unprecedented steps ” to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal mining.

Today’s Corps press release is available here, and I’m told top agency officials will have a media briefing on the issue later today.

Coal Tattoo readers will recall that the Corps’ proposal to do away with what it calls Nationwide Permit 21 was the subject of that nasty public hearing last October here in Charleston.  We had more detailed information about what was really at issue in this process in the post, Corps MTR hearings: What they’re all about.

Today’s Corps’ annoucement said:

The suspension in Appalachia will remain in effect until the Corps takes further action on NWP 21 or until NWP 21 expires on March 18, 2012. While the suspension is in effect, individuals who propose surface coal mining projects that involve discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States will have to obtain Department of the Army authorization under the Clean Water Act, through the Individual Permit process. The individual permit evaluation procedure provides increased public involvement in the permit evaluation process, including an opportunity for public comment on individual projects.

And it explained the reasoning for the decision this way:

The Corps determined after a thorough review and consideration of comments that continuing use of NWP 21 in this region may result in more than minimal impacts to aquatic resources. Activities that result in more than minimal impacts to the aquatic environment must be evaluated in accordance with individual permit procedures. Therefore, NWP 21 has been suspended in this region and coal mining activities impacting waters of the U.S. in this region will be evaluated in accordance with individual permit procedures.

A copy of the Corps’ decision document, to be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register, is posted here.  (Note that after midnight, that link will go dead, and you’ll have to search for the Corps’ notice in the June 18 Federal Register).

Updated: The Corps’ Federal Register notice is here,  and the agency has added some other documents about this matter to its Web site here.

As I’ve written before, U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin had already nullified the use of NWP 21 in the southern district of West Virginia prior to the Obama administration’s announced plans, and oddly enough, the administration also filed a notice that it planned to appeal Judge Goodwin’s decision.