The EPA has announced that it will use the authority bestowed by the Clean Water Act to halt disposal of mining waste in steams at the Mingo-Logan Coal Company’s Spruce No. 1 coal mine.
“The proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend,” says EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Peter S. Silva. “Coal and coal mining are part of our nation’s energy future and EPA has worked with companies to design mining operations that adequately protect our nation’s waters. We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on clean water.”
Potential environmental and water issues with Spruce No. 1 are detailed by the EPA:
- Disposed of 110 million cubic yards of coal mine waste into streams.
- Buried more than six miles of high-quality streams in Logan County, West Virginia with millions of tons of mining waste from the dynamiting of more than 2,200 acres of mountains and forestlands.
- Buried more than 35,000 feet of high-quality streams under mining waste, which will eliminate all fish, small invertebrates, salamanders, and other wildlife that live in them.
- Polluted downstream waters as a result of burying these streams, which will lead to unhealthy levels of salinity and toxic levels of selenium that turn fresh water into salty water. The resulting waste that then fills valleys and streams can significantly compromise water quality, often causing permanent damage to ecosystems and streams.
- Caused downstream watershed degradation that will kill wildlife, impact birdlife, reduce habitat value, and increase susceptibility to toxic algal blooms.
- Inadequately mitigated for the mine’s environmental impacts by not replacing streams being buried, and attempting to use stormwater ditches as compensation for natural stream losses.
The Clean Water Act Section 404(c) authorizes the EPA to restrict or prohibit placing dredged or fill material in streams, lakes, rivers, wetlands if it is determined that activity would result in “unacceptable adverse effects” to the environment or water.