CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's environmental regulators threatened to sue the Obama administration over tougher language in a mountaintop removal permit, even though the company seeking the permit accepted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new water quality limits.
The language was contained in one of two key permits that CONSOL Energy still needed to begin operations at the Buffalo Mountain Surface Mine being proposed as part of the King Coal Highway project in Mingo County.
EPA had said it would not allow the state to issue CONSOL's Clean Water Act pollution discharge permit without a provision to force action to control mine runoff if levels of pollution-related electrical conductivity, which scientists say is a crucial measure of water quality.
Department of Environmental Protection officials opposed the inclusion of such language and in a letter last week threatened to take EPA to court over it.
DEP officials eventually agreed to allow the language. EPA dropped its objections to the permit, and on Monday the state issued the permit worked out by CONSOL officials and EPA representatives.
"It's not a permit we normally would have approved," said DEP Secretary Randy Huffman. "We feel it has more in it than is necessary."
The 2,300-acre permit -- among the largest single strip-mining projects ever proposed in Appalachia -- remains hung up as federal officials complete a more detailed environmental study and review a second Clean Water Act permit to allow mining waste to be dumped into streams.
On Tuesday, CONSOL cited "a sequence of permit delays" when it announced plans to lay off 145 workers from an existing operation. Mining is nearly complete at that mine, the Miller Creek operation, and CONSOL had planned to move its workers to the Buffalo Mountain project.
The company's announcement prompted strong reactions from West Virginia political leaders, with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Democratic members of the state's congressional delegation saying the were "incensed" that EPA was delaying the mining permit and the highway project.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said that when he was governor he "made sure that the state supported the project's permitting and funding requests."
"Now, as senator, I am incensed and infuriated that the EPA would intentionally delay the needed permit for a public-private project that would bring so many good jobs and valuable infrastructure to communities that so desperately need them," Manchin said in a statement.