Board Orders DEP to Pay Groups' Legal Costs for Mine Waste Appeal

The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) recently ordered the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to pay the legal costs of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) and Friends of Dunkard Creek in the groups’ appeal and the agency's resulting revocation of an amendment to the pollution discharge permit for the Shannopin Mine Dewatering Project.

According to a press release from the environmental groups, the Shannopin Mine Dewatering Project, which was designed to prevent a catastrophic breakout of acid mine water from the abandoned Shannopin Mine into Dunkard Creek, was originally granted a permit allowing less stringent cleanup of the dangerous water. The challenged permit amendment, for which no public notice was given, would have allowed the project to collect water from Consolidation Coal Company’s (Consol) permitted Humphrey No. 7 Mine, where no breakout risk exists, and to treat that water to the less than optimal cleanup allowed in the original emergency situation.

The permit amendment was granted by the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Mining Program despite a finding nine months before by a staff biologist that the Shannopin Project’s discharge into Dunkard Creek contained high levels of total dissolved solids (TDS) and other pollutants, which were causing harm to aquatic life in the creek.

“DEP did the right thing by acknowledging the errors raised in our appeal and revoking the permit revision for the proposed Calvin Run pumping operation,” said PennFuture Senior Attorney Kurt Weist. “That revocation is important,” continued Weist, “because it prevents the pumping of additional high-TDS mine drainage out of Consol’s Humphrey Mine and into Dunkard Creek.”

“Equally important,” emphasized Jim O’Connell of the Friends of Dunkard Creek, “are the actions DEP still must take concerning the current operations of the Shannopin Mine Dewatering Project.

“DEP is more than 18 months overdue in renewing the project’s water discharge permit,” said O’Connell, “and a full year ago, its water quality experts recommended that the permit contain more stringent contaminant limits. The purpose of those tougher limits is to prevent the discharge into Dunkard Creek from the project’s Steele Shaft Treatment Facility from continuing to harm fish and aquatic life in the creek, and from contributing to TDS pollution in the Monongahela River.”

O’Connell and Weist both questioned the continued pumping of high-TDS mine drainage into the Shannopin Mine from Consol’s Humphrey Mine. “As its name indicates,” said Weist, "the Shannopin Mine Dewatering Project was supposed to prevent an outbreak from the Shannopin Mine by removing water from the mine. DEP made that job a lot harder in 2005 by authorizing, without public notice, the transfer of nearly 6 million gallons of mine drainage per day into the Shannopin Mine from Consol’s Humphrey Mine at the Watkins Run borehole operation.” “DEP documents state that the Shannopin Project’s Steele Shaft pumps could be shut off for about 10 years before an outbreak of mine drainage would occur,” explained O’Connell, “and that the only reason the pumps are running at their current rate is to handle the water transferred into the Shannopin Mine from Consol’s Humphrey Mine. The sole purpose for that transfer is to allow the mining of coal reserves above the Humphrey Mine.”

“The only reason mine drainage from Consol’s Humphrey Mine makes its way into Dunkard Creek is that DEP allowed it to be transferred into the Shannopin Mine,” said O’Connell. “Until the Shannopin Project’s discharge meets the more stringent contaminant limits recommended a year ago,” he continued, “DEP should minimize the damage by shutting down the transfer of water from Humphrey to Shannopin and reducing the amount of water pumped from the Shannopin Mine into Dunkard Creek.”

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