News release from Statewide Organizing For Community Empowerment:
Knoxville, Tenn. (July 21) – Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final guidance on conductivity standards for creeks and streams affected by Mountain Top Removal (MTR) coal mining in the mountains of Central Appalachia. Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) insists that a regulatory “guidance” does not carry the same weight as a rule, and as such cannot ensure full and adequate protection for the communities of Central Appalachia.
The final guidance excludes application of the conductivity benchmarks in Tennessee; limits the scope of the guidance to Kentucky and West Virginia.
“I understand the science-speak about why application of the benchmarks should be limited until more data is available,” said Cathie Bird, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment. “Unfortunately, we already see excess selenium discharge and other problems in streams near large surface mines. I think people and nature in Tennessee might be better protected with a more precautionary ‘bad-until-proven-otherwise’ approach.”
Ms. Bird lives near the Zeb Mountain mine site where mine owner National Coal was found to be discharging toxic selenium pollution into Tennessee waterways, a clear violation of the Clean Water Act.
A more cautious approach may also be supported by a recent peer-reviewed study that found significantly higher rates of birth defects in mountaintop removal coal mining areas compared to non-mining areas in Appalachia.
“The link between mountaintop removal mining and birth defects in Appalachia is a good example of just how much families are forced to sacrifice so a few coal company owners can get richer,” stated SOCM member Vicki Terry of Campbell County.
“This guidance leaves the interpretation and enforcement of the conductivity standards to the discretion and interpretation of the states. We’ve seen time and again that regional and state offices just aren’t interested in protecting the people here-they are interested in protecting industry and profits,” said Landon Medley, member of the SOCM E3 Committee (Energy, Ecology, and Environmental Justice).
SOCM has a long history of working to prevent destructive mining practices that harm Tennessee land and people. In 2010, SOCM joined the Sierra Club and Tennessee Clean Water Network in filing a complaint against National Coal Corporation, owner of the mountaintop removal mine site at Zeb Mountain, after toxic levels of selenium were found in Tennessee water sources near the mine site. SOCM members will continue to support efforts to protect Tennessee land and preserve the natural beauty of the state.
SOCM is a 39-year-old community organization working for social, economic and environmental justice issues.
The EPA news release on the action is below.
News release from EPA:
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released final guidance on Appalachian surface coal mining, designed to ensure more consistent, effective, and timely review of surface coal mining permits under the Clean Water Act and other statutes.
The guidance, which replaces the interim-final guidance issued by EPA on April 1, 2010, is based on the best-available science and incorporates input and feedback from over 60,000 comments received from the public and key stakeholders.
By providing EPA’s regional offices with the latest information on existing legal requirements, the guidance enables them to work together with states, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, mining companies, and the public towards a balanced approach that protects communities from harmful pollution associated with coal mining. EPA will apply the guidance flexibly, taking into account site-specific information and additional science to arrive at the best decisions on a case-by-case basis.
The science forming the basis for the interim-final guidance was also successfully applied in a number of mining decisions, including the Hobet 45 permit in West Virginia where EPA worked closely with a company to eliminate nearly 50 percent of their stream impacts, reduce contamination and lower mining costs. Successful outcomes resulting from the Corps’ Coal Mac-Pine Creek permit decision also provide evidence that the practices in the interim guidance are both feasible and effective.
“Under this guidance, EPA will continue to work with other federal agencies, states, local communities, and companies to design mining operations that adequately protect our nation’s waters and people’s health,” said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and this guidance allows EPA to work with companies to meet that goal, based on the best science.”
EPA’s final guidance reflects significantly enhanced science, extensive public comment and experience working with federal and state agencies and mining companies. It is based on improved, peer-reviewed science on impacts of mountaintop mining; extensive public and stakeholder input; and, lessons learned from the implementation of the interim guidance. The final guidance, like the interim guidance, is not a rule and is not binding legally or in practice.
EPA is committed to working with coal companies and stakeholders to reduce and prevent harm to water quality and human health and over the past two and a half years, EPA has built a strong foundation, working with federal and state agencies and mining companies to significantly reduce impacts to the environment.
• In January 2010, EPA worked with the Corps on the Hobet 45 permit in West Virginia to reduce stream impacts by almost 50 percent and minimize mine runoff into surface waters.
• In June 2010, EPA worked to ensure that the permit issued for the Pine Creek mine included an enforceable trigger for protecting downstream water quality and ensuring that the overall mining operation could protect water quality.
• In July 2011, EPA worked with Mid-Vol, Inc. and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to develop a Clean Water Act Section 402 permit that includes limits on ionic pollution to protect water quality.
Mountaintop mining is a form of surface coal mining in which explosives are used to access coal seams, generating large volumes of waste that bury adjacent streams. The resulting waste that then fills valleys and streams can significantly compromise water quality, often causing permanent damage to ecosystems and rendering streams unfit for drinking, fishing, and swimming. It is estimated that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining.
To view the final guidance: http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/guidance/mining.html
To view a copy of EPA’s Final Conductivity Benchmark Report as well as the Science Advisory Board’s final review: http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=233809