By Petra and John Wood
Note: A version of this article first appeared in the WV Sierra Club’s November December newsletter, MOUNTAIN STATE SIERRAN.
Readers have heard about the massive inputs of coal combustion waste (aka fly ash) on minelands around Morgantown, WV. On ~3,500 acres in 3 watersheds, up to 10,000 tons per acre (~10 ft of ash/acre) have been added during reclamation as a supposed beneficial use to reduce acid mine drainage. There is abundant evidence, however, that it does not necessarily reduce AMD and at the same time reduces air quality and especially water quality because toxic metals and TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) leach from fly ash dumped in minefills.
Several new and expanded mine permits proposing to dump ash are in the works, including the New Hill West and Coresco permits.
STATUS OF NEW HILL WEST PERMIT
Mine complex ~3 mi in length visible from I-79 just north of Morgantown. Part of New Hill West permit area is in lower left of photo
When the National Pollution Elimination Discharge System (NPDES) permit was approved for this 225 acre mine in 2010, Sierra Club and Appalachian Mountain Advocates (formerly the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment) challenged the permit in an appeal before the WV Environmental Quality Board (EQB).
To prevent degradation of water quality in Scott’s Run before the hearing could be held, a stay on the permit was requested and granted in November, 2010.
A four day EQB hearing in early December, 2010 featured expert witnesses who presented scientific evidence that high TDS, conductivity, and sulfates can impair aquatic life which is a violation of the Clean Water Act and of the WV Narrative Water Quality Standards (WQS). The WQS specifically state that NPDES Permit limits must ensure compliance against discharges of … “materials in concentrations which are harmful … to … aquatic life” (47 C.S.R. § 2-3.2.e) or that cause “significant adverse impact to the … biological components of aquatic ecosystems …” (47 C.S.R. § 2-3.2.i).
In March 2011, the five member EQB unanimously found that DEP’s issuance of the permit was unlawful, that they failed to include enforceable effluent limits sufficient to ensure protection of water quality standards, and that discharges from the New Hill West surface mine have the reasonable potential to cause or contribute to degraded water quality. The EQB remanded the permit back to DEP to set appropriate and enforceable limits for conductivity, sulfate, total dissolved solids, manganese, and selenium.
But even though the EQB decision was based on scientific evidence and the law, the WVDEP and the mining company appealed the decision to Kanawha County circuit court. Interestingly, the circuit court did not actually make a ruling on this appeal. Instead, in late September 2011, Judge James Stucky remanded the case back to EQB with the following statement. “The EQB shall provide written supplemental findings detailing a reasoned and articulate decision in the Final Order. Additionally, these findings should include guidance to calculate threshold values for regulating conductivity, TDS, and sulfate.”
In the meantime, the mining company filed an appeal to the EQB to lift the stay on the permit so that mining can commence. Additionally, their lawyers argue that because the company is losing $2 million a month in revenue that Sierra Club should have to post bond in this amount
( http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2011/10/11/judge-sendspatriot-permit-back-to-eqb/ ).
At the time this article was written, the EQB had not made a final ruling on the stay or the bond and has asked the lawyers for all parties to provide input on how to proceed with judge Stucky’s order. Apparently, this is an unusual ruling and the EQB is “feeling its way” on how to proceed. It does appear that the issuance of a valid NPDES permit for this mine will be delayed.
[Editorial/CLR update: As of mid-November EQB did lift the stay on the mining, but the basic permit issues await Board action with regard to further clarifications, guidance or thresholds values for conductivity, TDS and sulfate as ordered by Judge Stucky.
However, there has been an ironic – though perhaps not unexpected – twist. Just days before Thanksgiving newly elected Governor Tomblin removed two Board members who had expressed very strong opinions in the New Hill West case. ]
STATUS OF CORESCO PERMIT SITES NEAR MAIDSVILLE, WV
Coresco ash dump site
Two permits are in play here.
One is an existing ~140 acre ash dump. An application for renewal of this permit is pending even though there is evidence that the site is degrading water quality and is contributing to air pollution problems. All of the white and gray material in the upper half of the photo included here is fly ash and coal waste (note the large dozer near center top of the ash pile).
A new 338 acre SMCRA mine permit application is pending even though the application specifically states that there will be NO coal mining. The application proposes to dump ~86 million tons of fly ash over 25-30 yrs which will result in an unlined and uncovered ash pile 500 ft thick. This site, if permitted, will simply be a way for area power plants to dump their waste for free rather than have to pay for liners and treatment of run-off that would keep toxic metals and total dissolved solids (TDS) out of our surface and ground water.
A public meeting with WV DEP took place on Monday, October 17 and was attended by 20 some citizens, delegates Barbara Fleischauer and Mike Manypenny, and several media. The overriding theme of comments from attendees was that these sites are fly ash dumps that degrade our environment, affect human health, and should not be permitted under SMCRA.
Earlier that day the Sierra Club, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Fort Martin Community Association filed notice of intent to sue Coresco and affiliated company and property owner Mepco for violations of the Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT POSSIBLE CORESCO ACTION
Adapted from Public Justice press release issued October 17, 2011.
According to a new report from Downstream Strategies in Morgantown, WV coal combusion waste (CCW) and acid mine drainage (AMD) have seriously harmed aquatic life and aquatic ecosystems in a local stream, Crafts Run, which spans multiple miles and discharges into the Monongahela River.
The report’s data shows elevated levels of dissolved solids, aluminum, iron and manganese in water samples collected from the stream.
High amounts of boron and selenium indicated CCW pollution specifically, and in certain places, the concentration of iron violated state surface water quality standards.
Self-monitoring data by Coresco LLC—the company that owns and runs the disposal sites adjacent to Crafts Run—showed that violations of state criteria have occurred in the past for dissolved aluminum, iron and pH, all indicators of AMD pollution.
Coresco is now asking the WVDEP to allow it to expand its disposal operations within the watershed.
The 46-page report by Downstream Strategies states that as a result of those revisions, Coresco could potentially place 2.8 million tons of CCW and refuse waste within the Crafts Run watershed each year.
After years of undemonstrated assumptions that dumping coal ash is a good thing, monitoring reports are finally showing that there are indeed harmful impacts to waters downstream from mine and refuse sites. Expanding Coresco’s current coal ash disposal practices will not only further pollute Crafts Run but will also add additional stress to the Monongahela River, a valuable resource for tens of thousands of people all the way to Pittsburgh, Pa.
The notice letter details the groups’ position that Coresco must come into compliance with water quality standards. The letter was written to coincide with the WVDEP hearing concerning Area No. 4—the area into which Coresco is hoping to expand.
Public Justice and Appalachia Mountain Advocates plan to file a lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Fort Martin Community Association if the streams are not cleaned up within sixty days.
The potential lawsuit would allege multiple violations of the Clean Water Act by both Coresco LLC and Mepco LLC. (All of the waste disposal areas in the Crafts Run watershed are operated by Coresco on Mepco property. Both companies are subsidiaries of a common corporate parent, Mepco Intermediary Holdings.)
The lawsuit would also claim violations of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) by Coresco solely, and would seek both civil penalties and injunctions compelling Coresco and Mepco to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act, and Coresco with the SMCRA.