Coal Tattoo

Corps brings back streamlined strip-mine permits

There’s been an interesting development this week on mountaintop removal that I’m not sure most people have caught onto yet … Here’s the press release issued yesterday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced today revised and renewed nationwide permits necessary for work in streams, wetlands and other waters of the United States under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The permits are necessary to replace existing permits, which expire on March 18, 2012. The new NWPs will take effect March 19, 2012.

Most specifically:

NWP 21 – The NWP 21 for Surface Coal Mining Activities is revised to impose new limits on stream impacts that may be authorized, consistent with the other NWPs, and prohibits valley fills under this NWP. This updated permit was based on extensive feedback from the public and key stakeholders and leverages important flexibilities while also taking steps to protect wetlands. Updated permits will only be necessary for new or expanded activities. Operators that relied upon previously verified surface coal mining authorizations, but have not yet completed work in waters of the U.S., may request re-verification under the 2012 NWP 21 of all previously authorized activities.

Now you may remember that these are the “streamlined” permits for strip-mines and other activities — the same process that was struck nearly three years ago by Chief U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin and that the Obama administration promised it was going to stop using for surface coal mining in Appalachia.

This new version of NWP 21 is different. It will include some limits on the surface coal mining activities that can be authorized under it. Those limits are 1/2-acre and 300 linear feet of waters filled. Corps officials explained:

The 1/2-acre and 300 linear foot limits will substantially reduce the amount of stream bed and other waters lost as a result of activities authorized by this NWP, and limit this NWP to minor fills associated with surface coal mining activities, such as the construction of sediment ponds.

Interestingly, though, the agency also said:

However, that 300 linear foot limit may be waived by the district engineer if the proposed activity involves filling or excavating intermittent or ephemeral stream beds and the district engineer determines, in writing, that that activity will result in minimal individual and cumulative adverse effects on the aquatic environment. Agency coordination for proposed losses of greater than 300 linear feet of intermittent or ephemeral stream bed is intended to provide information that will assist the district engineer in making his or her minimal adverse effects determination.