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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Environmental Quality Board has temporarily blocked International Coal Group from opening a new strip mine in Monongalia County, granting a stay until the Sierra Club gets a full hearing on its appeal of the permit.EQB members have set aside four full days in mid-December to consider testimony and arguments over a water pollution permit for ICG subsidiary Patriot Mining Co.'s New Hill West Mine along Scotts Run near Cassville.The appeal is likely to be highly controversial, as it will focus at least in part on new federal water pollution guidance for Appalachian strip mines and on potential problems with using coal ash as part of the mine reclamation plan.
"We're very pleased that the Environmental Quality Board appreciates the risk of harm that will occur to streams and the environment if the company is allowed to conduct its proposed mining operations, and that the board has granted the motion for a stay," said Petra Wood, a Sierra Club member who lives adjacent to the mine site. "We look forward to the hearing in December which will show the board all of the problems with the permit, and that these streams and our community should be permanently protected."Roger Nicholson, general counsel for ICG, declined comment on the board's ruling.Lawyers for ICG had argued against the stay, saying in legal filings that the permit approval at issue was simply a modification to expand a mining site where operations are already ongoing.Patriot Mining wants to add a new, 225-acre surface mine called New Hill West. The operation would discharge pollution under a modification of an existing water quality permit that covers five other adjacent mine sites.In their appeal, Sierra Club lawyers argue the state Department of Environmental Protection wrongly did not perform a "reasonable potential analysis" of the mine's possible water quality impacts. The Sierra Club also argues DEP should have included in the permit additional water discharge limits for electrical conductivity, total dissolved solids and sulfates.The Sierra Club said DEP should have considered the mine's potential to contribute to an outbreak of golden algae, a toxic algae blamed for a huge fish kill in nearby Dunkard Creek in September 2009.Also, Sierra Club lawyers say they will present evidence at the hearing that shows existing mining at the site is already violating state and federal water quality standards. Reach Ken Ward Jr. at email@example.com or 304-348-1702.