"Our findings suggest that these channels should not be considered as on-site mitigation for the natural channels buried under [valley fills]," said the study, published in the Journal of the North American Benthological Society.
EPA officials in April issued new guidance for state regulatory agencies aimed at reducing mine pollution that increases streams' electrical conductivity, a key measure of water quality and potential for harm to aquatic life. Coal industry officials oppose the EPA action, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is considering a lawsuit to challenge the federal guidelines.
In reviewing the Coal-Mac permit, EPA officials found the operator originally proposed to have the full mining area disturbed and all three proposed valley fills active within 12 to 18 months.
EPA persuaded the company to delay the use of one of the three valley fills for about three years, but said wants Coal-Mac to go further and build each fill separately, waiting to start the next one until the previous one is finished. Federal officials said this would allow monitoring of each fill "prior to initial construction of subsequent fills, to ensure that predicted water quality outcomes are achieved."
Arch Coal officials did not immediately say whether they would accept the new EPA conditions.
The Rainforest Action Network criticized EPA's decision to sign off on the permit, saying it was "devastating" and did not live up to the agency's commitment to reduce mountaintop removal pollution.
"This continues the inconsistent and contradictory decisions that have plagued the EPA's process on mountaintop removal coal mining all along," the group said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.