EPA Moratorium of Appalachian Coal Project Permits Provoke Outrage

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"The Corps and the EPA have established a process for. . .surface coal mining activities that would discharge fill material into U.S. waterways."

Four mining associations charged Wednesday that EPA's final decision to place a moratorium on all 79 pending permits for coal mining operations in Appalachia, instead putting the permits through an advanced review process, was "playing with people's livelihoods."

In a letter Wednesday, EPA Assistant Administrator Peter S. Silva said the agency believes "that the majority of the permit applications recommended for further evaluation have not yet adequately demonstrated that anticipated adverse environmental and water quality impacts have been fully avoided and minimized as required under the guidelines."

Silva said that more than 80% of the proposals on the final list "exhibited the potential to cause or contribute to violations of applicable water quality standards."

Among the coal operations and projects which will be delayed for further review are properties belonging to Consol Energy, International Coal, Massey Energy and Elkhorn Coal, as well as a number of other mining companies. The mountain top mining permits are for mine expansions and projects in four Appalachian states of Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee.

The agencies originally identified 108 permit applications that would be subject to the extended review. Since the list was originally compiled, 29 projects have dropped off the list for various reasons, the EPA said.

Mike Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association, accused EPA of "playing with fire. More importantly, the agency is playing with people's livelihoods. The implications of their delaying tactics will be felt throughout this state's economy."

The extended reviews will be carried out under a joint process between EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on surface coal mining facilitated by the Council on Environmental Quality and signed by the EPA, the Corps and the Department of Interior. The Corps and the EPA have established a process for CWA Section 404 permit applications for surface coal mining activities that would discharge fill material into U.S. waterways.

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