CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal regulators have concluded that promoters of the proposed King Coal Highway and an associated mountaintop removal mine have failed to examine construction and mining options that could greatly reduce environmental damage from the project.
In a letter sent Friday and made public Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that a study of the highway-mine plan did not fully consider alternatives, including one from a mining engineer EPA hired to draw up less-harmful options.
EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin noted in the letter that CONSOL Energy's proposed Buffalo Mountain Surface Mine "represents one of the largest surface coal mines ever proposed in Appalachia." The operation would create a dozen valley fills, bury more than seven miles of streams and temporarily impact more than three more miles of streams.
Garvin said, though, that the latest project study "does not evaluate any project alternatives that may be available to avoid and minimize these impacts" or examine "alternatives that may provide the basis for a project that meets the identified goals and objectives in a cost-effective and technically feasible manner."
EPA rated the study as "EU-3," or "Environmentally Unsatisfactory -- Inadequate Information."
"Our experience in Appalachia demonstrates that it is possible to improve mine design to better protect water quality and the environment, reduce costs, and maximize coal recovery," Garvin said in EPA's letter. "We are confident that a more thorough and comprehensive analysis would identify reasonable opportunities to achieve the stated project purposes with fewer environmental impacts."
CONSOL spokeswoman Lynn Seay said that the company "is confident that the comments received as part of this process can be addressed without requiring a complete revision of the proposed mining plan." She said that CONSOL "will work collaboratively with the agencies involved to continue to move the project forward."
EPA officials have long expressed major concerns about the Buffalo Mountain proposal, submitting a letter objecting to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "dredge-and-fill" permit for the operation on the day President Obama was inaugurated.