Coal Tattoo

A new report out this week from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends major improvements in the way state regulators across Appalachia review water-pollution permit applications from the coal industry.

The report, available here, documents EPA’s findings in a review of Appalachian state agency handling of Clean Water Act permits for surface coal-mining operations.

While EPA officials concluded that state agencies “do an effective job” at implementing effluent limits, the agency also found some serious problems:

— EPA could find little evidence that state regulators conduct “meaningful water quality impact assessments” when they issue water pollution authorizations through general permits. (Kentucky and Ohio use general permits).

— Incredibly, state regulators generally do not assess whether actual or proposed discharges from surface mining operations have a “reasonable potential” to cause or contribute to excursions of water quality standards.

— State records either do not clearly document, or provide little documentation, regarding ambient and effluent data, or data from similar mines, used to assess water quality impacts and the potential for new permits to harm water quality.

— Most Appalachian states do not currently have numeric limits for conductivity, total dissolved solids and sulfates. Instead, states rely on “narrative” water quality guidelines, but generally do not implement those in a way that deals effectively with conductivity, TDS and sulfates.