CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration has approved a new permit for a Consol Energy operation in Mingo County after the company agreed to greatly reduce its potential environmental impacts.U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials approved the permit for Consol's Spring Branch No. 3 Mine after the company quietly made a deal to resolve concerns raised by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.Consol reduced the surface footprint of the deep mine operation from 57 to 19 acres and cut its burial of streams from 3,600 to 870 linear feet, while still proposing to mine 2.77 million tons of coal. The original mine proposed to produce 2.85 million tons of coal."It is [the] EPA's position that this project has been substantially improved through significant new avoidance and minimization measures," EPA officials said in a Feb. 14 letter to the corps.
"Stream impacts have been reduced by nearly 76 percent and the total surface area of disturbance has been reduced by approximately 66 percent," the EPA letter said. "Notably, while the environmental footprint in waters of the U.S. has been significantly reduced, nearly 97 percent of the coal reserves that were originally proposed for mining will be extracted under the applicant's revised proposal."The Consol deep mine permit was among 15 mining projects still under review as part of more detailed permit studies by the EPA, initiated by the agency in large part to crack down on the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. It is at least the third permit in which the EPA has convinced a mining operator to reduce its environmental impacts.While the Consol permit was for an underground mine, EPA officials said they were still concerned about the impacts associated surface operations would have on water quality.Coal industry officials and political leaders in several coal states have sued the EPA over its permit reviews, while environmental groups have argued the Obama administration is not going far enough and should ban mountaintop removal.Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.