Group 'Outraged' by Corps' Decision on Mining Permit

Kentucky Waterways Alliance said on March 27 that it was outraged after the Louisville district of the Army Corps of Engineers decided to reissue a controversial coal mining permit to a mining company in eastern Kentucky. The permit will allow International Coal Group (CG) to resume operations on the Thunder Ridge mine site in Leslie County, Ky., the group said.

The decision came one day after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decided to evaluate two permits for similar coal mining sites in West Virginia and Kentucky. The EPA’s move is considered a small environmental victory, marking the Obama administration’s commitment to reevaluate the effects mountaintop removal coal mining have on rivers, lakes, and streams.

“The Thunder Ridge mine site is exactly the type of mining operation the EPA signaled they were concerned about this week. It’s inexcusable for the Louisville Corp office to reissue this permit after EPA’s recent action,” stated Judith Petersen, executive director, Kentucky Waterways Alliance.

The permit in question was halted late last year after Kentucky Waterways Alliance, along with the Sierra Club, sued the corps for its decision to issue the permit based on the belief that they had not sufficiently considered the cumulative water quality impacts of the planned mining. It was reinstated after ICG agreed to reduce the number of valley fills in the new area from five to four. The reinstated permit increases the operation by 22 percent, from 5.5 square miles to 6.9 square miles.

The Army Corps of Engineers has historically been challenged for failing to thoroughly evaluate the environmental impact of mountaintop removal, a form of mining that involves clear-cutting forests and blasting mountains apart to get to the coal. The dirt and rock left behind is dumped into nearby valley fills, destroying streams and degrading water quality across Appalachia. This method of mining coal has long been scrutinized by environmental organizations.

While ICG did reduce the footprint of its new valley fills, there is still no evidence that the corps evaluated the cumulative water quality impacts of expanding a surface mining operation that is already unusually large.

In press reports, the corps said that it had had no recent dialogue with EPA over water quality issues with the reinstated ICG permit, saying that the agency had raised no concerns in December 2007 when the original permit was issued.