A revised mountaintop removal permit that federal regulators touted as less damaging actually leaves larger areas unreclaimed for longer periods of time, an international mining expert testified Friday in federal court.
John Morgan, a mining engineer hired by environmentalists, said that the new Arch Coal Inc. permit was given a variance from the federal law's "contemporaneous reclamation" requirement.
The company's permit application, however, does not include a required explanation of why the mine couldn't comply with the requirement and needed a variance, Morgan told Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II.
"It does not contain adequate detail," Morgan said. "There is no engineering data."
Morgan testified for two hours Friday morning in the second day of a hearing on the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy's request for a preliminary injunction against the mine.
Arch Coal subsidiary Hobet Mining Inc. wants a permit to strip 3,100 acres along Pigeonroost Branch near Blair, Logan County. Environmentalists want to stop the mine.
The Pigeonroost permit, covering nearly 5 square miles, is the largest mountaintop removal proposal in West Virginia history.
On Wednesday, Haden issued a 10-day temporary restraining order to halt the operation while he hears testimony and legal arguments about alleged problems with the permit.
The U.S. Justice Department exempted the Pigeonroost permit from a new, stricter policy on mountaintop removal permits. The agency said that Hobet Mining had agreed to reduce the size of valley fills and mitigate adverse environmental impacts of the mine.
Morgan testified Friday that under the revised permit, three of the mine's nine phases will involve more than 1,500 acres being disturbed at one time. The original permit did not involve any phases with that much disturbed area, Morgan said.
"Disturbed areas are what sometimes cause environmental problems like dust and runoff during mining," Morgan said. "The greater the amount of total area that is disturbed, the greater the problems like runoff will be."