Indiana environmental groups on Oct. 11 appealed a decision that they claim allows toxic pollutants to discharge freely from Peabody Energy’s (NYSE: BTU) Bear Run surface coal mine in Sullivan County into local waterways.
In an appeal filed in Sullivan County Superior Court, the Sierra Club, Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) claim that Indiana Environmental Law Judge Catherine Gibbs erred in portions of her Sept. 11 decision that allowed the state to issue a permit without first ensuring that the discharge of sulfates and other pollutants from the mine would not cause or contribute to violations of existing Clean Water Act standards.
The appeal does not challenge another part of Judge Gibbs’ ruling, which found that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) failed to follow the Clean Water Act by allowing the mine to operate without first determining that local waterways would not be degraded. That portion of Judge Gibbs’ ruling marked the first time that environmental groups had ever successfully challenged a discharge permit for a coal mine in Indiana, the groups said in an Oct. 11 statement.
“While we are pleased with a portion of Judge Gibbs’ ruling, allowing the rest of the ruling to stand would set a bad precedent and leave Indiana’s waters unprotected from dangerous coal mine pollution,” said Jodi Perras, Indiana Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
The Bear Run mine, developed a few years ago mostly to serve in-state utilities like Duke Energy Indiana, is the largest surface coal mine east of the Mississippi River, targeted to produce between 8 million and 12 million tons of coal annually.
In 2010, the Sierra Club, ELPC, and HEC challenged the general Clean Water Act discharge permit issued to the Bear Run mine, citing alleged significant deficiencies in Indiana’s permitting process. Unlike an individual permit, the general permit issued for the Bear Run does not require the mine’s owners, 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 groups said. An individual permit would also require regular water quality testing and reporting.
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 Indiana; Hoosier Energy‘s Merom plant in Indiana; Indianapolis Power & Light‘s Harding Street and Petersburg plants in Indiana; and Tampa Electric‘s Big Bend plant in Florida.