"It's kind of a dream come true for the mining industry," VanGundy said.
Jim Kotcon, spokesman for the state chapter of the Sierra Club, agreed.
"In this case, the solution to pollution is more pollution," Kotcon said. "That is wrong."
Rob Goodwin, a leader of the group Coal River Mountain Watch, noted that various industry lobbyists sat in the back of the room at Wednesday's DEP hearing, but did not sign up to testify. Goodwin challenged one of them, West Virginia Coal Association vice president Jason Bostic, to come to the podium and explain how many jobs the DEP rule change would create or preserve.
Bostic declined to address the hearing, but said in an interview that the impacts of the DEP change may not be as severe as environmental groups made them sound. Some mine operators may end up with less restrictive permit limits, Bostic said, but others may see their limits tightened if hardness in their area is not as great.
Overall, though, Bostic said meeting current aluminum standards is a problem for the industry.
"It's fairly common," he said. "The guys have problems with it, and they have problems with it big time."
Bostic said he could not yet quantify the extent of the problem, though, because mining companies are only now starting to collect new hardness and acidity data they would need to seek permit changes based on the emergency rule.
"We need site-specific information," Bostic said.
In a letter to DEP, environmental groups said it is that lack of site-specific information that undermines any argument in favor of an emergency change in the statewide aluminum limit.
"To the extent that the weakening of the standards provides any benefit to the public, those benefits would be extremely short-lived," said the letter, signed by leaders of eight statewide groups. "The benefits that WVDEP claims will accrue during that period can only be realized after EPA approval and other time-consuming regulatory processes, which will take numerous months."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.