IMPORTANT -- EPA Mine Hearing for October 24

By Ken Ward Jr.

(This article appeared in the Charleston Gazette on Sept. 24, 1998)

Federal regulators have scheduled what promises to be a heated public hearing on two mountaintop removal strip mine permits for Oct. 24, officials announced Wednesday. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will host the hearing, which was requested by environmental groups concerned about mountaintop removalís long-term ecological effects.

"The practices of mountaintop removal and valley fills have raised many questions and concerns from the public in West Virginia," EPA Region III Administrator W. Michael McCabe said in a news release. "The hearing will provide an impartial forum for them to be heard."

McCabe plans to run the hearing, which is scheduled for noon to 5 the Savas Kostas Theater at Southern West Virginia Community College in Logan.

Mountaintop removal mining blasts the tops off Appalachian hills so that huge shovels and dozers can shave off valuable low-sulfur coal underneath. Leftover rock and earth is dumped into nearby hollows and streams in waste piles called valley fills.

At least 134 such mines in West Virginia -- and probably twice that many -- have been permitted to flatten tens of thousands of acres of West Virginia.

The hearing Oct. 24 will focus on two massive mountaintop removal operations: Arch Coal Inc. subsidiary Hobet Mining wants a permit to expand its Dal-Tex operation to mine 3,100 acres near Blair in Logan County. The mine would bury four miles of streams under valley fills and be the largest surface mining permit in West Virginia history. A.T. Massey Coal Co. subsidiary Independence Coal wants a permit to mine 1,600 acres south of Madison near Uneeda, Boone County. The operation would dump100 million cubic yards of rock and earth into seven valley fills.

The state Division of Environmental Protection proposed to issue water pollution permits for both mines, but was stalled because of EPA objections. EPA issued objections to both draft permits, on the ground that the permits would allow the mines to bury streams in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

Under EPA regulations, the agency can hold a public hearing on any water pollution permit it objects to or if a member of the public or a state agency involved asks for the hearing. EPA rarely holds such hearings, especially in states that have taken over issuance of federal water pollution permits. This is the only such hearing in West Virginia in recent memory.

Public notices are being published in state newspapers to announce the meeting. The agency also invited public comments on both permits. They can be sent by Oct. 27 to Dan Sweeney, U.S. EPA, 1650 Arch St. (3WP12), Philadelphia, Pa. 19103,or be faxed to (215) 814-2301.