The company wants to expand the operations with 336- and 462-acre permits requested from the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation. The new mines would involve contour and auger mining, as well as area mining, a technique similar to mountaintop removal.
In February, DEP Director Michael Miano issued the 336-acre permit for mining along Bullpen Fork.
EPA Region III Administrator Michael McCabe initially rejected the state's efforts to issue a separate water pollution permit for the mine. Ongoing federal court litigation over mountaintop removal had stalled a third permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Last week, McCabe and the Corps backed off. They allowed issuance of both the water pollution permit and the Corps' "dredge and fill" permit for the operation.
In a news release, McCabe praised Pittston for reducing the size of its major valley fill from a drainage area of 340 acres to one of 291 acres.
"This mine underwent very close scrutiny," McCabe said. "Pittston modified its application to reduce the size of fills, reduced stream impacts by 20 percent, agreed to channel clean water through the mine from the hill above, and will improve the instream sedimentation pond. These measures provided a considerable measure of environmental protection."
However, the Vandalia permit appears to violate a court settlement that required all mines with valley fills in streams draining more than 250 acres to receive more stringent "individual" permits from the Corps.
The Vandalia permit was authorized through a less rigorous, general "nationwide" permit.
Under the Clean Water Act, mining can only be authorized through nationwide permits if regulators determine that the mining's cumulative adverse impacts on water quality will be minimal.
The OSM report states that DEP did not properly study the Vandalia permit's potential cumulative impacts.