Using this streamlined process, the corps issues a permit with a standards set of environmental guidelines. Mining operators are then authorized to bury streams if the submit a general plan to follow those guidelines. There is far less regulatory scrutiny, or public notice and comment, than if companies go through the more rigorous individual permit process.
For years, the corps approved valley fills -- burying hundreds of miles of streams with waste rock and dirt from mountaintop removal mines -- with the streamlined process.
Industry officials defend mountaintop removal as highly efficient and say it provides high-paying jobs in a depressed region of the coalfields. But scientific journals report a growing consensus that the practice does immense damage to forests and water quality across the Appalachian region.
U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin has twice blocked the corps from using streamlined permits for strip mines in Southern West Virginia. One of his decisions was overturned on appeal and another is being challenged by the mining industry.
Meg Gaffney-Smith, chief of the corps' regulatory program, told reporters Thursday that Goodwin's ruling played no role in the agency's decision to abandon the streamlined process. Gaffney-Smith also refused to comment on why the corps had joined the industry in filing a notice that it planned to appeal the judge's decision.
And the corps did not rule out trying to bring back the streamlined permit process, calling Thursday's announcement "an interim measure" that would remain in effect until the corps "takes further action" on the matter.
In its decision document, the corps said agency officials have "concerns that continued use of this permit in the Appalachian region of these six states may result in more than minimal individual and cumulative adverse effects to aquatic resources.
"Activities resulting in more than minimal individual and cumulative impacts to the aquatic environment cannot be authorized by NWPs or other general permits," the corps said.
Corps officials said that using individual permits instead would give agency officials more detailed information on which to base their decisions, and would give more opportunity for the public to comment on proposed permits before mining is allowed.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.