First, Maslany wrote that EPA wants Independence Coal to "re-evaluate its overburden handling plans to provide further fill minimization or avoidance where feasible."
Earlier this year, EPA used a similar objection to force Pittston Coal Co. to scale down a mountaintop removal mine in Logan County from 985 acres to 595 acres.
Second, Maslany wrote that EPA would not allow the permit to be issued to Independence under the terms of the new state mitigation law.
Previously, the state required companies to pay monetary mitigation or build recreation ponds and stream replacements whenever valley fills were permitted in drainage areas of 250 acres or more.
Under the new law signed by Underwood, coal companies would only have to compensate the state when streams buried by valley fills covered drainage areas of 480 acres or more.
In his letter, Maslany said that EPA would require mitigation for all valley fills that cover streams with drainage areas of 200 acres of more. That's a more stringent requirement than the old state program.
And in a phone interview, McCabe said he was also concerned that the new law giving the Legislature control over any monetary mitigation payments might allow the money to be diverted away from stream replacement projects.
"We need assurance that whatever stream mitigation is spelled out in the permit is actually carried out," McCabe said.
Under federal law, EPA can stop the state from issuing any water pollution permit the federal agency feels is inadequate. Federal officials can also step in an issue a permit that contains the requirements they favor over whatever the state has required.
In the last two years, EPA Region III officials have formally objected to at least four strip mine water pollution permits because of concerns over valley fills. In the earlier cases, the agency quietly sent letters to DEP about the permits. On Wednesday, the EPA press office called reporters to alert them to the objection and set up interviews with McCabe about the issue.
State DEP officials, however, downplayed the matter.
"I don't see this as anything other than EPA doing their job and trying to get answers to their questions," said DEP Director Michael Miano. "I am willing to sit down with EPA representatives and Independence Coal representatives to try to resolve this issue."
Bill Marcum, a spokesman for Massey Coal Services, said, "We received EPA's letter this afternoon and we are in the process of reviewing their objections."