W.Va. DEP to Meet with Federal EPA About Mountaintop Mining

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials will meet with federal Environmental Protection Agency members on Thursday to try and establish new guidelines for mountaintop mining.

In the meantime, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin used some strong words, saying the EPA doesn't have a clear cut direction, and that has him concerned.

That's because some mining permits are being denied by the EPA, and now there's a backlog.

Manchin says the companies don't know how to fix their proposals to make them acceptable by federal standards. So, he says, instead of giving black and white requirements to receive a permit, the EPA is simply not answering.

"All we are getting is a slowdown and stalling tactic, which is cruel and inhumane," Manchin said. "It affects everyone's lives that is involved in this industry."

Mining permits go to the state Department of Environmental Protection first. If given the go-ahead, they go to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and then to the federal EPA, which is where they are being denied.

Federal EPA spokesman Enesta Jones responded by e-mail to the following questions from WSAZ.com's Amanda Barren:

Barren: Today, when talking to reporters, Governor Joe Manchin says it is the responsibility of elected leaders to give people an answer. He is frustrated that the permitting process appears to be at a standstill. What is the status of the Mountaintop mining permitting process in general?

Jones: The federal agencies understand the importance of coal mining for jobs, for supporting state economies, and for helping to meet the Nation's energy needs. We remain concerned, however, that more must be done to improve protection for coalfield communities from the the environmental and water quality impacts resulting from surface coal mining practices, as the Clean Water Act requires. EPA is working with the Corps of Engineers, the states, and coal companies in order to protect jobs and the environment. The Corps continues to make permit decisions and we are also coordinating to improve proposed coal mining permits to reduce environmental impacts and assure compliance with the requirements of the CWA.

Barren: How do we create a process that is more black and white in the Appalachian Region? It's been called arbitrary by industry leaders.

Jones: EPA has repeated its commitments to ensure that the CWA permitting process is fully transparent and that permitting requirements being applied to coal mining are those established in the CWA and our regulations. We are determined to provide the mining industry and the public with an open, consistent, and environmentally effective process for the CWA review of mining projects.

Barren: Back in May Governor Manchin said he was encouraged with his conversations with the EPA, and today, his sentiment is much different. What is the EPA's response to (his) comments?

Jones: EPA appreciates the opportunities the Governor has provided to coordinate with him and state agencies as we work to improve the environmental review of surface coal mining practices in West Virginia. We also agree with his emphasis on the importance of mining for jobs and the economy. We remain committed to working with the Governor to improve protection of water quality and the environment for coalfield communities in West Virginia, communities that rely on the jobs provided by mining and depend on safe and abundant water resources protected under the CWA.

Meanwhile, West Virginia DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said the federal EPA is simply taking a back-door approach.

"If they think there is water quality problems from coal mining, then come to the state, cause we regulate water quality," Huffman said. "Let's figure out what the criteria should be, let's lay that out on paper so that the regulated community understands what the rules are prior to filing out the applications, not after the fact.

On Thursday, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito will have the opportunity to question EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the head of the federal organization.

Capito's assistant said the topic of the committee hearing is the Clean Water Act, which is a source of debate when it comes to the effects of mountaintop mining.

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