An environmental law judge in Indiana, in a case brought by environmental groups, on Sept. 11 rejected a water permit for Peabody Energy’s (NYSE: BTU) Bear Run mine, the largest coal strip mine in the eastern U.S.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management failed in a 2010 permit amendment to comply with the Clean Water Act by allowing the Bear Run mine in Sullivan County to discharge toxic water pollution without first determining that local waterways would not be degraded, the judge ruled. The judge ruled for the environmental groups on one of their summary judgment counts, and rejected their other five counts.
Environmental Law Judge Catherine Gibbs of the Indiana Office of Environmental Adjudication issued the ruling in a case brought by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), Hoosier Environmental Council and the Sierra Club. Gibbs sent the permit back to IDEM to conduct the required “anti-degradation” review. In their challenge, the environmental groups cited significant deficiencies in the state’s permitting process for the coal mine.
“The Bear Run Mine is one of the least regulated coal mines of its size in the nation,” ELPC staff attorney Jessica Dexter said in a Sept. 18 statement. “The one-size-fits-all approach ignores that this mine and this watershed has its own set of potential pollution issues that need to be addressed.”
The environmental groups contended that the mine should have to fulfill its obligation to operate safely, including a thorough study of the mine’s wastewater and analysis of nearby waterways. Clean Water Act permits are intended to set meaningful limits on all pollutants that facilities discharge – including toxic pollutants discharged by coal mines. An individual permit – like the ones issued to other large mines in the United States – would require Peabody Midwest Mining LLC to study the mine’s wastewater, analyze nearby waterways, determine the threat of toxic contamination, and obtain a permit that sets pollution limits based on the waterways’ ability to handle the wastewater, the club said. The permit would also require regular water quality testing and reporting.
A Peabody spokesperson said on Sept. 19 that the judge’s full decision reaffirms Bear Run’s general permit as appropriate to the operation, that the permit was reaffirmed and not invalidated, and that this action has no impact on mine operations.
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data shows that Bear Run produced 4 million tons of coal in the first half of this year and 8.1 million tons in all of 2012. U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows that customers earlier this year included: the Wabash River, Cayuga and Gibson plants in Indiana of Duke Energy; Hoosier Energy‘s Merom plant; Indianapolis Power & Light‘s Harding Street and Petersburg plants in Indiana; and Tampa Electric‘s Big Bend plant in Florida.