Under the Clean Water Act, national permits are to be used only for activities which have minimal adverse cumulative environmental impacts.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a Jan. 7 letter to Gheen, stopped short of objecting to the issuance of the Hobet permit under a nationwide permit program.
David Densmore, supervisor of the Service's regional office, noted that valley fills at the mine will bury nearly 3 miles of streams.
Hobet Mining plans several projects to mitigate for this damage, Densmore wrote, but "the Service remains concerned that surface mining on this scale may not meet the minimal impacts requirement of the law and that project impacts on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems are not being adequately compensated."
"Notwithstanding these concerns, however, we recognize that we are going through a period of transition in the review and regulation of mountaintop removal and valley filling, and that increased environmental protection and improvements in agency coordination are likely to be realized from this process," he wrote.
"With this in mind, and with the understanding that future projects of this kind and their compensation requirements will be subject to more careful and coordinated scrutiny, the Service does not object to your proposed authorization of the Spruce No. 1 Mine by nationwide permit."