Review supports EPA science about damaging impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining

September 30, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

This just in from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

On September 28, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) independent Science Advisory Board (SAB) released their first draft review of EPA’s research into the water quality impacts of valley fills associated with mountaintop mining. In their draft review, the SAB supports EPA’s scientific research and agrees with EPA’s conclusion that valley fills are associated with increased levels of conductivity (a measure of water pollution for mining practices) in downstream waters, and that these increased levels of conductivity threaten stream life in surface waters.

“This independent review affirms that EPA is relying on sound analysis and letting science and only science guide our actions to protect human health and the environment,” said EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water Pete Silva. “We will continue to follow the science and solicit input from all stakeholders as we safeguard water quality and protect the American people.”

The SAB reviewed EPA’s draft report “A Field-Based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Central Appalachian Streams,” which uses field data to derive an aquatic life benchmark for conductivity. The benchmark is intended to protect 95 percent of aquatic species in streams in the Appalachian region influenced by mountaintop mining and valley fills. Based on that science, EPA released guidance in April designed to minimize irreversible water quality impacts caused by mountaintop mining.

Following the completion of the external peer review and review of public comments, the report will be revised and published as a final report.

A growing body of scientific literature, including previous and new studies performed by EPA, show significant damage to local streams that are polluted with the mining runoff from mountaintop removal. To protect water quality, EPA has identified a range of conductivity (a measure of the level of salt in the water) of 300 to 500 microSiemens per centimeter that is generally consistent with protecting life in Appalachian streams. The maximum benchmark conductivity of 500 microSiemens per centimeter is a measure of salinity that is roughly five times above normal levels.

The draft Science Advisory Board report is available here.

33 Responses to “Review supports EPA science about damaging impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining”

  1. morgantowner says:

    “Science?” said the grizzled prospector. “We don’t need no stinkin’ science!”

  2. Thomas Rodd says:

    Good to see that this initiative is moving forward there have been some negative comments here and I’d like to see some people address the merits of this latest development.

  3. Jason Robinson says:

    The difference in the quality of the material presented in this review, compared to the documents recently posted on the NMA website as part of their “lawsuit” against EPA, is worth pointing out.

    If you read the NMA documents, they don’t cite much of this literature. It’s like it doesn’t exist. Wishing don’t make it so.

  4. Casey says:

    The print story included this: “EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson has said her agency’s efforts are “not about ending coal mining,” but “about ending coal mining pollution.” ”

    My questions are:
    Is EPA’s intent to only apply conductivity limits to coal mining?
    Don’t almost all land uses such as roads, agriculture, housing, etc (any activity that clears trees) also increase conductivity?
    If conductivity is only applied to coal mining wouldn’t that seem to be an attempt to end coal mining?
    Would that be fair?

  5. Jessica says:

    Coal mining waste has Arsenic and other heavy metals in it. Do roads, agriculture, and housing result in Arsenic and other heavy metal contamination?

    Is it fair for the communities of miners and native Appalachian taxpayers to be poisoned by their drinking water and be locked in a mono economy that employees 1% or less?

    Is it fair for a unequal uncompetitive tax structure that makes it harder for new small businesses to become established offering desperately needed jobs to the region, while it favors the coal companies ownership of mass expanses of land left undeveloped and poorly reclaimed with invasive species in a region that is scientifically identified as one of the few bio diverse hot spots IN THE WORLD?
    *That bio diversity by the way CAN and was cultivated by Appalachian natives to earn a sustaining PROFIT harvesting Ginseng in the very valleys that the coal waste full of Arsenic and heavy metals are being dumped in.

    @Casey I agree COAL mining should not be the only mining limited in the pollution they can produce. Copper mining in Butte MT has resulted in a mile wide open pit Superfund site owned by BP through a subsidiary. This town has a toxic plume moving under the city as a result of mine waste pile run off.

    @ everyone who pays taxes and can vote
    There is H.R. 1310 and S. 696 in congress right now sitting in committee because Dems are to afraid to move for a vote and Rep are claiming its just another progressive administration’s attack on coal.
    “Vally fill” was defined in the Nixon administrations first passing of the Clean Water Act as sand or gravel so that roads and bridges could be build while protecting water quality. The Bush administration redefined it to include mining waste. Now the EPA has produced the scientific evidence to prove what the Nixon administration knew well enough to keep it separate in the first place, which is that coal waste does not belong in water.

    *More coal waste is produced from Mountain top removal while less jobs are produced since this process uses huge machines that can do the work of many human = higher unemployment in the regions where the most mountain top removal happens, which also are the regions with the highest poverty in the country and the less access to public water and sewage.

    This legislative session is coming to an end but the Army Corps of Engineers will continue approving valley fill permits regardless of the proven negative environmental/ health impacts.

    Is that fair?

  6. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I believe that we’ve addressed the issue you raise in this previous post:


  7. Thomas Rodd says:

    Casey, I think you are right in pointing out that, for example, in activities like constructing interstate highways, loose earth and rock structures much like “valley fills” are created, and presumably the conductivity of groundwater that passes through this rubble is affected, just as occurs at surface mines.

    But, the EPA is not, again as I understand it, applying conductivity standards to highway construction.

    I believe — but I wish someone who is really knowledgeable would address this — that the EPA’s principal rationale for appplying conductivity standards to drainage from large-scale surface mines is the documented and much greater effects their discharges have on receiving streams, compared to other rubble-creating activities.

    To me, this seems like it might be a “fair” and legally supportable distinction, and not just an attempt to increase the cost of coal mining, but the courts will ultimately have to decide that.

  8. Casey says:

    Yes you addressed the issue but it is still an issue worthy of analysis and critique. The agency guidelines as you reported stated “permits for discharges associated with activities other than surface coal mining should also be evaluated to determine whether they are likely to result in in-stream conductivity levels above 500 … “. The question is what will the EPA do once they do this analysis? Also there are many activities and land uses that clear forest and increase conductivity that do not require permits for discharges and therefore would not be limited unless EPA proposes to greatly expand regulations.

    Rod, you might read the post by “EPA Insider” at the link Ken listed. All human activity causes higher conductivities so that is why all of our rivers have high conductivity.

    From my point of view Jackson’s statement is misleading and the objective of the EPA conductivity limits is to stop MTM, surface mining and probably deep mining in Appalachia.

  9. rhmooney3 says:

    How about the application of salt to roadways in winter?

    I do not believe the EPA regulates that high conductivity activity?

    (Increased conductivity has always been a valid issue for any mining anywhere.)

  10. Concerned Miner says:


    The “mining waste” generated from MTM has exactly the same Arsenic and heavy metals as a road cut and fill on the WV Turnpike. The term “mining waste” by all logical thought should be the refuse material cleaned from the mostly underground mined coal and placed in refuse fills.

  11. Jason Robinson says:

    concerned miner, have you measured this? can you point to other measurements of this?

  12. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    concerned miner,

    Please provide citations or links to some scientific papers that provide some context as to the amount of this type of activity, and its associated pollution, compared to surface coal-mining … part of the issue here is scale, and I’m not sure your comment addresses that.

    Some references to support your comments would be much appreciated … Ken.

  13. Thomas Rodd says:

    I missed that map in the earlier post that Ken links to. It shows that the scale of earth disturbance in Central Appalachia is astonishing.

  14. Casey says:

    So if the large scale of activities that cause increased conductivity is the issue then what should be done about the 382MM acres of crop production (since we export food -all is not needed)? What should be done about the 525MM to 788MM acres estimated for livestock grazing (41.4 percent of the U. S. excluding Alaska, are grazed by livestock)?

    Social planners should advocate the banning of meat consumption and put grazing land back into forest. Trees would consume a lot of CO2 and greatly reduce CH4 generation (23X the global warming effect of CO2) from livestock plus health care costs would probably greatly decrease from an improved diet.

    Urban areas (that also cause conductivity increases) take up 60MM acres of land in the U.S. (which is 4X the size of WV). Some 3,000 acres of productive farmland are lost to development each day in this country.

    If there is a real issue here it is human population. I personally do not advocate some of the things I’ve mentioned but I think they show to some degree that the hatred of everything coal is driving the science to show that it is bad while bigger issues are largely ignored by many. That’s my two cents.

  15. Monty says:

    I think one thing to keep in mind is the question of scale. One thing that has always struck me about MTR sites is that they show up – quite plainly – from space on the false color LANDSAT photos. Any reasonable person would have to admit that the sheer scale of a mountaintop removal mining job, both during and after mining, is, as Tom Rodd says, astonishing.

  16. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Well, this is a blog about coal … so that’s why the focus here is on that subject.

    And actually, lots of other people who are interested in the future of humankind (call them social planners if you wish) do research, study and advocacy on the issues you mention…

    I may have posted this link before to a Joe Romm commentary regarding consumption vs. population as the main global warming problem, … I recommend everyone read it.

    In addition, in response to your comment, I will say that, whatever environmental or workplace safety problem I write about, I usually hear from the industry involved that I must be just against THEM, and why don’t I focus on some other industry that they say has a bigger problem. That’s pretty typical stuff, and not especially convincing to me as a response to the damage being done by surface coal mining.


  17. rhmooney3 says:

    There are quite a few sources about landcover changes. Below is a viewer for significant topographic changes.
    Large areas of West Virginia have been affected by mountaintop removal mining (light red), and additional areas have been permitted but not yet mined (blue).

    An individual mine permit may only cover a few hundred to a few thousand acres, but mountaintop removal mines often expand over many years through a succession of permits. Combining data on mine permits with satellite imagery (place mouse over image for comparison) helps provide a sense of how the landscape has been or will be altered by mining. This map of the Kayford Mine and others in southwest West Virginia shows active mines (red), areas permitted for future mining (purple), and sites that are being reclaimed (blue). The image shows how the area looked on May 22, 2002. [NASA map and image by Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen, based on Landsat satellite data provided by the Global Land Cover Facility (GLCF) and mine permit data from the W.V. Department of Environmental Protection.]
    This figure shows the USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle maps that contain topographic change polygons. These quadrangles are the ones that are candidates for updated topographic mapping. In fact, a number of these areas have already been updated with the high-resolution, high-accuracy data that have recently been integrated into the NED.
    The USGS has developed a national inventory of significant topographic changes based on seamless multitemporal elevation data and land cover data. The National Elevation Dataset (NED) and the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data form a unique pair of seamless elevation datasets that can be used to detect and analyze 20th century topographic surface changes in the United States.

  18. mayflyguy says:


    “Is EPA’s intent to only apply conductivity limits to coal mining?” No, not according to the draft benchmark document.

    “Don’t almost all land uses such as roads, agriculture, housing, etc (any activity that clears trees) also increase conductivity?” Agriculture, housing, and logging land use activities typically involve disturbance to the soil layers and not the underlying unweathered bedrock. This is important because water is constantly saturating the soil and dissolving ions. While agriculture, housing, and logging can increase conductivity (likely due to the absence of plants to uptake dissolved ions) it is relatively small when compared to the 10-20x jump when you fracture unweathered rock and expose it to water. So no, you do not see same significant increases in conductivity that we see with the disturbance of MTM/Valley Fills. As far as valley fills associated with roads, the size of these fills are so much smaller (in both volume and acreage than MTM/VF that it is likely that road valley fills would meet the benchmark criteria of 300. Even if some sort of geological feature in the strata would cause the conductivity blow the 300 benchmark (e.g., say a road cut through bedrock near a seam of coal), then it still would be likely to go forward with a road VF because it would be relatively minimal in size therefore, less likely to cause lasting downstream water quality impacts or impairments. One of the keys to this is cumulative impacts (i.e., many large valley fills concentrated in a small drainage area, which is becoming more typical in MTM/VF, versus smaller to tiny ones spread out over large drainage area, which is more typical of road cut valley fills).

    Coal mining waste has Arsenic and other heavy metals in it. Do roads, agriculture, and housing result in Arsenic and other heavy metal contamination?
    The heavy metals (e.g., Arsenic) associated with MTM/VF is from the sudden exposure of unweathered rock to water. Arsenic in the other three land use activities could come from brake dust, pesticide/fertilizer application, or pressure treated wood. I do not know of many publications/studies looking at these alternative sources relating to water quality. I did hear a presentation about a small lake where they attributed elevated Arsenic to the pressure treated wood on boat docks and brake dust in runoff.

    How about the application of salt to roadways in winter?
    While this could be a source of conductivity and ions, it still is not significant when compared to MTM/VF. You have to understand some things about the interaction of the water and exposed bedrock. First, during the winter, the conductivities downstream of VFs tend to be lower because of dilution. There is simply more water running off and into the valley fill than flowing out of the valley fill. Higher conductivities occur in the late summer before leaf fall and it is exacerbated by below normal rainfall to drought conditions (e.g., now). The valley fills tend to retain water and release it more slowly throughout the summer (fractured rock has more pore/interstitial space to retain the water than intact bedrock). This is why you could have a stream that is not mined be bone dry and a stream of the same drainage size that has a valley fill in the next hollow over has constant flow. So when you consider that salt applications occur in the winter and usually when there is a precipitation event, any increase in conductivities would be minor and likely almost undetectable in a intermittent/perennial stream. Now, ephemeral streams and ditch lines would likely have a more detectable increase due to small size and concentrated flows.

    Elevations from urbanization do occur and are common. I do not think that anyone argues that it doesn’t or can argue that we can simply stop urban sprawl; but we can minimize (brown fields), remediate (infiltration zones), and mitigate it (designate natural areas). This is not happening with MTM/VFs, at least not to the extent possible. There are a lot of new techniques available in valley fill construction that will help minimize downstream impacts (better ID of spoil that will leach ions, better constructed valley fill under drains, spoil minimization, use of passive treatment using the forested berms using weep berms, better application of sediment pond treatment technology, better use of natural stream design on constructed channels). And hasn’t EPAs review of the Hobet permit resulted in a minimization of streams buried without sacrificing too much minable coal?

    Finally, what about natural elevated conductivity (e.g., from Karst/Limestone in the Great Valley in the eastern panhandle around Martinsburg)? Well, there is no coal over there so does anyone really care???

  19. rhmooney3 says:

    Salt deicing of roads does have significant environmental impacts, but like insufficient sewage plants and spetic system we overlook those impacts.

    For sure, I am not diminishing the impacts from coal mining and other large scale disturbances — like warfare — that occur throughout the world.

    I just want to note that we are biasis and discrimatory in our environmentalism.

    (Again, our agricultural activities are far more devastating than are those from mining.)

    Eliminating the ice has enormous safety benefits, but depending on the amount of chemicals used, the dissolved salt can have negative effects on the surrounding environment.

    The melting snow and ice carries deicing chemicals onto vegetation and into soils along the roadside where they eventually enter local waterways. Elevated salt levels in soils can inhibit the ability of vegetation to absorb both water and nutrients, which can slow plant growth and ultimately affect animal habitats. This degradation also affects the ability of these areas to act as buffers to slow the runoff of other contaminants into the watershed. Once the salt enters freshwater it can build up to concentration levels that further affect aquatic plants and other organisms. Salt deposits along roadways also attract birds, deer, and other animals which increases the chance of animal-vehicle accidents.

    While the major effect on public drinking water supplies for humans is merely an alteration of taste, high concentrations of sodium in drinking water can lead to increased dietary intake and possibly hypertension. Since salt is corrosive to automobiles, bridge decks, and other roadway infrastructure, deicing chemicals are often combined with other substances to block corrosion. While eliminating ice is of great benefit to commerce and human safety, these drawbacks must be taken into consideration by communities as they plan for regular maintenance of the road, as well as the health of the local ecosystem.

  20. Concerned Miner says:


    That’s the issue, there is no information about the increased conductivity, heavy metal or pH at the toe areas of large fill areas associated with highway or commercial development, because no one wants to know the answer. These discharges have no monitoring plans or water quality limits.
    MTM has the bullseye on it because certain groups have placed it there, but those same groups enjoy going to the Southridge development and not having to drive thru the old Memorial Tunnel on the way to Beckley.

    Does anyone really think the water quality coming from the massive fill coming into Paint Creek on the WV Turnpike where the old Memorial Tunnel was bypassed has any different water quality than the mining valley fills constructed within a five mile radius?? They both contain the same rock, the rock is the issue, no matter if you are building a road or removing the coal.

  21. Jason Robinson says:

    Concerned Miner, you can’t possibly be serious. There are lots of scientific studies of this issue, and many from this particular area of West Virginia. They are published in peer reviewed journals across multiple fields of research. The reasons that would cause you to claim such a thing is hard to understand.

    Of course you are going to say, “Where are these studies can I read them?” and I will give you the links. Why not skip the middle man before making this sort of purely rhetorical attack?

    It is dishonest to say that there is no information about the water quality effects from these other types of land disturbance. It simply ain’t so. Am I calling you out, personally? I’m not sure. Where did you hear that “there is no information […] because no one wants to know the answer”? do you have links to sources claiming this?

    The coal industry rhetoric and legal literature daily denies the existence of hundreds or thousands of peer reviewed scientific articles testifying to the very same effects that you are claiming are unknown and unstudied. You should be aware that those sources cannot be trusted as accurate representations of the status of scientific knowledge.;page=root;view=image;size=100;seq=5

    or this one, which might behind a pay wall.

    Look, aquatic effects of highways have been studied to death. So has urbanization. There is simply no content to this industry claim. The NMA lawsuit materials posted online repeat this sort of things that are easily falsified by anyone with a computer and teh google.

  22. Jason Robinson says:

    Concerned Miner, there is lots of science that studies just what you claim doesn’t exist.

    In fact, I have a post here with some links in it to just exactly some of those papers that ask those questions which you claim “no one wants to know the answer”.

    It’s in limbo for some reason.

    Ken’s blog is clunky when it comes to links, which is understandable in these days of cheap viagra.

    But it’s possible he didn’t like my tone, which I’ll try to rectify here. This has happened before, when I have attempted to point out that liars lie and Ken thought this uncivil.

    This time, this I shall be more formal and lose my staunch rectitude (good old baptist upbringing!) that eschews dishonesty as a matter of principle.


    “The business of erecting false claims untrue allegations, about topics which you have neglected to do any sort of due diligence or good faith attempt to educate yourself (before engaging in conspiracy mongering, character assassination and all around general slanderous lies and calumny), is a hurtful and deceitful practice. Please kind sir I implore you to stop repeating the falsehood that people are ignoring science in the name of politics. The only people ignoring science in the name of politics are those who claim this immense of body of information doesn’t exist”.

    That is as civil as I can make it. I think protecting or giving shelter to paid liars is reprehensible and pointing out that those who construct these falsehoods are, by definition, liars, is the essence of honest debate, no? No one wants to be wrong on purpose, do they?

    Coming to this conclusion (there are no studies) on your own is one thing, hearing it and repeating it from an industry source is another.

    I’d be delighted to share those studies with you via email if this blog is not the appropriate place. jason.lesley.robinson at gmail.

  23. Concerned Miner says:

    Jason, I’m offended (at least I think I am, hard to tell from your post), that you think I am a liar. I sir have built both types of fills we are discussing, and by “built” I mean from the engineering design and final certification stand point and I know for a fact that there are no differences in them. In fact, the “mining waste” fills may actually cause less problems down stream than construction related fills. Before you call me a liar again, please follow my reasoning…mining overburden must be tested for selenium, construction fills do not, mining overburden has to be tested for acid/base content, construction fills do not, and finally minining fills have water quality discharge parameters, construction fills do not.

    As far as the “scale” argument, I’m not buying that either. We are talking about a point source discharge, one fill, one discharge point. If you have an actual study that shows construction related fills the magnitude of the WV Turnpike fills do not cause conductivity to rise, plese direct me to them.

  24. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Jason and Concerned Miner …

    Both of you please calm down and tone it down.

    Jason in particular, you started it with your comment, “It is dishonest to say …” and then with your use of the word “liar.”

    As I’ve told you repeatedly off list, Jason, no name calling on Coal Tattoo … and also please refrain from pushing right up to the edge of it, and then backing off … that’s not respectful of other readers or of me. You’re baiting people (me included), and this blog isn’t the place for it.

    The two of you are MORE THAN WELCOME to have a civil discussion about conductivity, coal mines, and other potential sources. But please, do so in a less personal and more respectful tone, or I’ll pull the plug on this discussion right away.

    Let’s see if I can get this conversation back on track …

    Concerned Miner, you tend to want to focus on your own experience and that’s fine. All of us can learn from folks who are actually working in the coal industry on these sorts of issues. BUT, the way science is debated and discussed in our society is through publication in peer-reviewed journals, as Jason has pointed out.

    So … questions to both of you:

    — Jason — Could you summarize the findings of the three studies you linked to? Do they answer the question Concerned Miner asked (If you have an actual study that shows construction related fills the magnitude of the WV Turnpike fills do not cause conductivity to rise, plese direct me to them.)? If not, can you point us to a study that does?

    — Concerned Miner — Can you point us to, say, 3 peer-reviewed studies that support your view as stated in your repeated comments above? Either citations or, even better, links would be most helpful.

    And seriously, guys — Jason, especially — calling other people liars is just not allowed on this blog. If you want to say that something someone else said isn’t true, just say, “I don’t think that’s correct, and here’s my link or citation explaining why I think so.” Jason, if you can’t live with that, please refrain from commenting on this blog in the future. I’ve given you more latitude than I would like by leaving the above posts online, but I just really won’t allow that sort of tone or name-calling.


  25. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Concerned Miner,

    On the issue of scale, a question and a point:

    The point — The issue of scale has to do with the cumulative scale and impact of the activities, and if you look at the study I cited in this post you’ll see what I mean.

    Did you read that study? Thoughts on its methods or conclusions?

    The question — Can you provide information about the size of the particular fill you mention on the Turnpike, or the fills for Southridge Center? How many cubic yards or tons of materials did those involve, compared to the latest fills on Hobet’s Westridge Permit not too far away?


  26. Jason Robinson says:

    Hey I thought I WAS being more civil! I didn’t call Concerned Miner a liar. In that post, I mentioned that I had previously been informed that “Liars lie” and other such tautologies are beyond the scope of Coal Tattoo. Is the word verboten?

    I also said that someone ‘out there’ is ginning up falsehoods and these items are being repeated by people who accept them uncritically. I doubt for multiple reasons that Concerned Miner is the one inventing these sorts of claims, but I have read “EPA CONSPIRACY” in enough places to know that the industry is investing a lot of money and man power into generating these sorts of baseless rumors.

    Concerned Miner, my initial intentions were to attempt to respond to your insinuation that that there is a scientific conspiracy to avoid studying the effects of highway or residential construction on conductivities or water quality in general.

    If you have heard this elsewhere, I would dearly love to know where. I have noted that denying the existence of huge amounts of scientific literature has become boilerplate tactics for the coal industry of late.

    if you came to this conclusion via your own research, I would offer those studies as evidence to the contrary.

    If you look at the chart on page 14 of the “hathitrust” hosted USGS paper

    Stress and recovery of aquatic organisms as related to highway construction along turtle and lick creeks, boone county WV.
    J Chisholm and S Downs.(Washington :Dept. of the Interior, Geological Survey,1978)

    You see that in the affected stream, TDS decreased at the end of construction of Corridor G. Conductivities were always below 500 microsiemens (see the table on page 15 to verify this).

    Studies looking at Corridor H ( Response of benthic macroinvertebrate communities to highway construction in an Appalachian watershed. Lara B. Hedrick, Stuart A. Welsh, James T. Anderson, Lian-Shin Lin, Yushun Chen and Xinchao Wei. 2009. Hydrobiologia 641: 115-131) found similar patterns, specifically that TDS and conductivities are elevated during construction but fall to background levels after construction ***UNLIKE*** streams draining “reclaimed” surface coal mines.

    don’t know if you can see that one, it’s behind a wall. if you need it, i’ll gladly send you a copy!

    the final study does not include chemical water quality data so upon reflection it might not fit here ( This study looked at fine sediment effects on benthics below highway construction and found no long term effects of increased sediment transport or changes in benthic assemblages from the highway construction in Hardy County WV.

    After all, YOU said

    “That’s the issue, there is no information about the increased conductivity, heavy metal or pH at the toe areas of large fill areas associated with highway or commercial development, because no one wants to know the answer.”

    There is information.


  27. Jason Robinson says:

    Back to the context for this…

    When the NMA makes press releases in their lawsuit (against EPA concerning the new surface coal mining regulations) entitled “EPA Uses “Bad Science”… are we supposed to chalk that up to a rhetorical flourish and not point out that it is a false claim?

    When a report written for NMA entitled “Status of the Industry Understanding of the Effects of Mountaintop Mining and Valley Fills on Aquatic Resources” doesn’t contain a single peer reviewed scientific article, what do you call that? Misconduct? Unintentional?

    It’s routine for NMA and other industry front groups to make claims like “junk science” and “bad science” or “scientific conspiracy” in their media material. Those are not victimless slanders. They also aren’t true. look at the NMA comments about the EPA MTM report (

    That piece cites a ONE SINGLE peer reviewed article about a single study on the hyporheic (beneath the stream bottom) fauna in a single stream in WV, and uses that to justify saying “… the hyporheic zone of streams in West Virginia, suggested to be a sink or refuge for invertebrates by EPA,apparently does not harbor a unique invertebrate assemblage”.

    If that’s not junk science, or bad science, or “lying by quotation” I don’t know what is.

  28. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    As I have told you off list … don’t call other readers liars. Don’t suggest they lie. Don’t try to find ways to call them liars without coming right out and doing it … be respectful of others. Disagree without being so disagreeable.

    For your specific example —

    — “When a report written for NMA entitled “Status of the Industry Understanding of the Effects of Mountaintop Mining and Valley Fills on Aquatic Resources” doesn’t contain a single peer reviewed scientific article, what do you call that? Misconduct? Unintentional?”

    Don’t call it anything. Just point out that it doesn’t contain a citation to a single peer-reviewed article, and explain that’s not how science is supposed to work.

    People will get it … it’s a shame that the media in this country has gotten to the point where folks think to get paid attention to they have to turn up the heat, instead of the light. Hopefully, Coal Tattoo is a place where the quality of what you say matters more than how loud you say it.


  29. Jason Robinson says:

    Sure ken, but i don’t believe I have called anyone a liar here. Perhaps you can point to that statement? Concerned Miner, if you feel that I have called you a liar you have my full apology. Perhaps the issue here is similar to establishing a “POV”…

  30. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I would refer you to this:

    “Hey I thought I WAS being more civil! I didn’t call Concerned Miner a liar. In that post, I mentioned that I had previously been informed that “Liars lie” and other such tautologies are beyond the scope of Coal Tattoo. Is the word verboten?”

    And to this:

    “It is dishonest to say that there is no information about the water quality effects from these other types of land disturbance.”

    And to this:

    “But it’s possible he didn’t like my tone, which I’ll try to rectify here. This has happened before, when I have attempted to point out that liars lie and Ken thought this uncivil.”

    And to this:

    “This time, this I shall be more formal and lose my staunch rectitude (good old baptist upbringing!) that eschews dishonesty as a matter of principle. ”

    And to this:

    “That is as civil as I can make it. I think protecting or giving shelter to paid liars is reprehensible and pointing out that those who construct these falsehoods are, by definition, liars, is the essence of honest debate, no? ”

    I could go on … All of this talk of “liars” and “dishonestly,” is simply not showing much respect for others … If you think someone is wrong, fine. Say so in a polite and respectful way, and provide a link or two that back up what you say.

    But now, let’s move on, folks — Jason has kindly summarized the studies he cited and linked to … perhaps now Concerned Miner will answer any of the questions that Jason and I have raised above?


  31. Concerned Miner says:


    I’m sorry I don’t have peer reviewed studies to throw out, as I have always said just a long career moving dirt and rock for all types of development in WV. I can however speak to the one study cited above that Turtle Creek and Lick Creek in Boone County weren’t harmed by 119 construction. I have logged some 500,000 miles on 119 and watched and worked on most of it’s construction. There are no fills of any magnitude anywhere near these two creeks.

    I’m going to let the issue die as I am firing an empty gun when it comes to “benthic macroinvertebrate communities”, but have great knowledge about the life blood of SWV communities. Thanks for letting me be part of the discussion, and I will refrain from relying on my experience only in future comments.

  32. Jason Robinson says:

    One of the complaints in the NMA suit is about the use of prior disturbance within the watershed as a consideration in permitting. Lots of folks have worked out, in many contexts and geographic areas, whether there are “thresholds” or “tipping points” to the amount of land disturbance that can occur in a watershed and not impair stream water quality as indexed by fish and macroinvertebrate assemblages. A rule of thumb is that for agriculture and urbanization impacts, around 12-15% of the watershed that can be disturbed by surface coal mining before serious water quality problems arise downstream. (see the discussion at the bottom of page 5 here

    A friend of mine uses an airplane analogy to explain this to his ecology classes but I don’t know who to attribute it to so I’ll just describe it. In essence, a functional ecosystem is like an airplane. Impacts that cause species to decrease population size or go locally extinct are analogous to weakening or removing the bolts holding the airplane together. At some point, the integrity of the structure is impaired by these losses but depending on the order (and location!) of those bolts, that point may be different between different stressors or systems.

    What I am getting at is that while the volume of those fills may not be comparable to fills on other highway systems, I have no context to compare these numbers to the big fills you described. The Chisolm and Sanford paper says that in the watersheds of those streams, around 3.5 million cubic yards of material was excavated, 250 acres cleared, and that cuts required the mulching and seeding of 108 acres in the watershed.

    In any either, we would expect benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages to reflect the cumulative water quality in the watershed upstream. It’s very likely that big highway fills (if they create perennial seeps or surface flow where none existed before) could have some similar effects to water quality downstream and that is worth evaluating, but even if it is true it doesn’t mean that the cumulative impacts of surface mining in watersheds should be ignored when permitting. We know unequivocally that these tipping points exist and we also know that streams rarely “return from the brink”.


  33. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    OK, folks … I think that’s about enough on this post … Jason got the last word, and I thank Concerned Miner for conceding that he doesn’t have any peer-reviewed studies to back up his previous comments … we’re moving on folks. Ken.