A July 30 ruling by the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board (EQB) backed the Sierra Club’s challenge on behalf of local residents to a permit for the New Hill West surface mine of Patriot Mining, one of the operations that Arch Coal got in a June 2011 buy of International Coal Group.
The EQB agreed with the Sierra Club that pollution from surface coal mining harms aquatic life, and that Clean Water Act discharge permits for these mines must include enforceable numeric limits for conductivity, sulfates, and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), the club noted in a July 31 statement. The New Hill West mine, where the company intends to dispose of coal ash along with mining waste, is located in Monongalia County, the club said.
The EQB had issued a similar decision in March 2011, but Patriot Mining and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection appealed that decision and a state court ordered EQB to issue supplemental findings. The July 30 ruling reaffirmed the board’s previous decision and directs the DEP to include limits in the permit that will protect downstream aquatic life.
“We’re glad to see the Environmental Quality Board take a tough stance to ensure the coal industry has to follow the rule of the law. These new permitting procedures will help limit the toxic pollutants found in coal waste that threaten the health of our rivers and streams as well as the residents who fish, swim and play in these waterways,” said West Virginia Sierra Club Chapter Chair Jim Sconyers.
The board’s July 30 order read in part: “The Board finds there is a strong positive correlation between conductivity and diminished macro-invertebrate community health. While this decision is permit specific, the Board understands that head water stream communities may require a more strict conductivity standard than streams of higher stream order such as Scotts Run. The Board finds that WVDEP erred in issuing the permit without conducting a reasonable potential analyses and without including effluent limits necessary to ensure compliance with the state narrative and numeric water quality standards.”
The WVDEP database shows that the mine permit for the 225-acre New Hill West strip job, to work the Waynesburg and Waynesburg A coal seams, was issued in October 2010. As of a June 29 DEP site inspection, the mine was on approved inactive status, with only 25 acres of the permit area disturbed up to that point.
Said Arch’s Feb. 29 annual Form 10-K report about this operation: “The Patriot mining complex consists of one surface mine and loadout facility located on approximately 3,200 acres in Monongalia County, West Virginia. Mining operations extract coal from the Waynesburg seam. All of the coal reserves are controlled through private leases. As of December 31, 2011 we had approximately 4.1 million tons of proven and probable reserves. Without the addition of more coal reserves, the current reserves could sustain current production levels until 2017.”
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration shows that the currently active Patriot strip mine of Patriot Mining produced 176,476 tons in the first half of this year and 521,721 tons in all of 2011.