West Virginia Sues EPA over Mountain Top Mining Controls

by | Oct 7, 2010

 The State of West Virginia says it is filing a lawsuit against two federal agencies that seeks to reverse the stricter controls on mountain-top coal mining adopted in 2009 by the Obama administration, the New York Times reports.

Announcing the action on Wednesday against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, Gov. Joe Manchin III said that the regulations were unlawful, usurped state rights, were based in inadequate science and harmed the state by preventing new mining projects.

Manchin, a conservative Democrat, blasted what he called the Obama administration’s “attempts to destroy our coal industry and way of life in West Virginia.”

In 2009, the government instituted tighter rules for mountaintop removal, the method by which earth is blasted off hills to gain access to the coal underneath. Critics say the process pollutes the environment and destroys the landscape.

Responding to the move, the EPA said in a release that its policies on mountaintop mining were legally and scientifically sound. It added that in negotiations over the last year and a half, “state officials have not engaged in a meaningful discussion of sustainable mining practices that will create jobs while protecting the waters that Appalachian communities depend on for drinking, swimming and fishing.”

The agency’s environmental concerns were affirmed by an independent advisory panel, it added.

Mountaintop removal, in which hundreds of feet are blasted off hills to gain access to coal seams, has become a favored mining method in West Virginia, Kentucky and nearby states, but also a source of bitter conflict. Producers say it saves money, but critics say it is destroying the landscape as the removed dirt and rocks are dumped in valleys and toxic chemicals are released.

Manchin is in a tight Senate race against Republican John Raese, who has accused the governor of not being a strong enough backer of the coal industry. The Times article suggested that the lawsuit is an opportunity for Manchin to show his support for mining and to distance himself from President Obama, who is unpopular in the state.

EPA Proposes NOx Controls for Four Corners Power Plant

Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed requiring additional pollution controls for the Four Corners Power Plant located in the Navajo Nation near Farmington, New Mexico. EPA’s proposal will require plant operators to install the most stringent pollution control technology available for this type of facility.  These controls will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from approximately 45,000 tons per year to 9,000 tons per year.

Nitrogen oxides (NOx) react with other chemicals to form ozone and small particles, both harmful to the public’s health. Ozone forms when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react in the presence of heat and sunlight. Children, the elderly, people with lung diseases such as asthma, and people who work or exercise outside are at risk for adverse effects from ozone and particulate matter.  

“The Four Corners Power Plant is the largest source of nitrogen oxides in the nation,” Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest Region said in a press release. “Adding new pollution controls at this 45-year old plant will reduce these emissions by 80 percent—we will all be able to see the results and breathe cleaner, healthier air.”

The Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze Rule requires the use of Best Available Retrofit Technology at older coal-fired power plants to reduce haze and improve visibility. According to the agency, EPA’s proposal is achievable by installing and operating Selective Catalytic Reduction on all five units at the plant. The installation and operation of SCR is estimated to increase the electricity bill for the average Arizona Public Service residential customer by about 70 cents per week.

EPA will continue to consult with the Navajo Nation and other affected tribes, and Federal Land Managers before taking any final action. There will be a 60-day public comment period on the proposed action as well as two public hearings in the Four Corners area.  

EPA to Hold Public Meeting for Ashland Superfund Cleanup Plan

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 has selected a cleanup plan for the Ashland Northern States Power Lakefront Superfund site in Ashland, Wis. The cost of the cleanup plan is estimated at between $83 million and $98 million.

An information session to discuss the selected plan with residents will be held at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 4, at the Great Lakes Visitors Center, 29270 County Highway G, Ashland.

EPA, in consultation with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, evaluated a number of cleanup options for soil, sediment and ground water and selected a cleanup plan that includes:

  • Removing soil from the most contaminated areas of Kreher Park and the Upper Bluff/Filled Ravine, treating the soil on-site, and reusing the soil after treatment or disposal off-site.
  • Using barriers to contain and stop the movement of contaminants in ground water, treating the ground water in place, and adding wells to extract and treat ground water.
  • Digging up wood waste and contaminated sediment near shore in Chequamegon Bay and dredging contaminated sediment offshore, covering excavated area (near shore) and dredged area (offshore) with at least six inches of clean material, and treating contaminated sediment after removal or disposal off-site.

A manufactured gas plant is primarily responsible for the soil, ground water and sediment contamination at the Ashland Northern States Power site. Contaminants include a mixture of chemicals that made up part of the liquid waste from gas production. Other past activities in the area, including possible wood treatment at local sawmills and construction of the former municipal wastewater treatment plant in the 1950s, may have added to the contamination.

Copies of the study that details EPA’s final cleanup plan, the Record of Decision and other site documents are available here.

For more information or special accommodations at the information session, contact Patricia Krause, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator at krause.patricia@epa.gov, or call 800-621-8431, Ext. 69506 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

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