EPA, Arch Coal seek to end permit dispute

AP News
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Posted: Jan 05, 2010 4:28 PM

The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it is negotiating changes that may allow Arch Coal to continue operating a controversial mountaintop removal coal mine in southern West Virginia.

The agency said Arch has agreed to delay action in a federal lawsuit involving the Spruce No. 1 mine until March while it tries to negotiate changes that eliminate Clean Water Act violations.

The agency announced last fall that it plans to revoke a 2007 water quality permit allowing Arch to bury intermittent streams with excess rock at the mine. While so-called valley fills are allowed by federal law, environmentalists want the practice banned.

West Virginia will continue trying to seek clarity from the EPA on the Spruce mine and permitting issues in general, Gov. Joe Manchin said.

The EPA also confirmed that it's dropped objections to the Army Corps of Engineers issuing a similar permit for Patriot Coal's proposed Hobet 45 mine in Lincoln County. The permit affects about 500 mining jobs.

Among other things, Patriot agreed to cut the number of stream miles to be buried at Hobet, direct mine drainage away from surface water and protect highly productive streams at the site, the EPA said.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups criticized the Hobet decision, saying it means more destruction for Appalachia.