Environmental Protection

Feds Coordinate Oversight of Mountaintop Coal Mining

The Obama Administration is taking steps to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop coal mining in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia through a coordinated approach among the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The administration will implement an Interagency Action Plan on mountaintop coal mining that will:

  • Minimize the adverse environmental consequences of mountaintop coal mining through short-term actions to be completed in 2009;
  • Undertake longer-term actions to tighten the regulation of mountaintop coal mining;
  • Ensure coordinated and stringent environmental reviews of permit applications under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1997 (SMCRA);
  • Engage the public through outreach events in the Appalachian region to help inform the development of federal policy; and
  • Federal agencies will work in coordination with appropriate regional, state, and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the health and welfare of Appalachian communities.

"Mountaintop coal mining cannot be predicated on the assumption of minimal oversight of its environmental impacts, and its permanent degradation of water quality. Stronger reviews and protections will safeguard the health of local waters, and thousands of acres of watersheds in Appalachia," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

"The Army is pleased to support interagency efforts to increase environmental protection requirements and factual considerations for mountaintop coal mining activities in Appalachia," said Terrence "Rock" Salt, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. "The initiative … will allow us to move forward on a number of important permit applications while providing improved certainty and transparency to permit applicants and the public."

The following actions will be taken this year by the agencies:

  • The Corps and EPA will require more stringent environmental reviews for future permit applications for mountaintop coal mining;
  • By mid-July, the Corps will issue a public notice (pursuant to 33 C.F.R. § 330.5) proposing to modify Nationwide Permit (NWP) 21 to preclude its use to authorize the discharge of fill material into streams for surface coal mining activities in the Appalachian region, and will seek public comment on the proposed action;
  • The Corps and EPA will strengthen permit reviews under CWA regulations (Section 404(b)(1)) to reduce the harmful direct and cumulative environmental impacts of mountaintop coal mining on streams and watersheds;
  • EPA will strengthen its coordination with states on water pollution permits for discharges from valley fills and state water quality certifications for mountaintop coal mining operations; and
  • The agencies will improving stream mitigation projects to increase ecological performance and compensate for losses of these important waters of the United States.

The Department of Interior will:

  • Reevaluate and determine how the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) will more effectively conduct oversight of state permitting, state enforcement, and regulatory activities under SMCRA;
  • Ensure the protection of wildlife resources and endangered species by coordinating the development of CWA guidance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS); and
  • If the U.S. District Court vacates the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule, as requested by the Secretary of the Interior on April 27, 2009, Interior will issue guidance clarifying the application of stream buffer zone provisions in a preexisting 1983 SMCRA regulation to ensure mining activities will occur in a more environmentally protective way in or near Appalachian streams.

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