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Mountaintop permits inadequate, OSM reports say

Federal mining engineers have reviewed six more pending state mountaintop removal permits and found them unacceptable, according to internal government reports.The U.S. Office of Surface Mining found numerous problems with the permit applications, according to draft OSM reports obtained by The Charleston Gazette.OSM staffers found the applications proposed valley fills that were too large and mining plans that did not comply with new approximate original contour reclamation guidelines.Engineers, geologists and hydrologists from OSM also found that applications did not adequately consider potential water quality problems from proposed mining."The [application] does not adequately address the hydrologic impacts of multiple seam mining operations," says one OSM report, on a Vandalia Resources Inc. permit application.Vandalia, a Pittston Coal subsidiary, wants a permit to mine 463 acres along Lily Fork and Sycamore Run in Clay County, according to Division of Environmental Protection records."Some, [but] not all of the state water quality standards were discussed," the report says. "The Cumulative Impact Area was not totally defined, such as number of acres or square miles in watershed. "Discussion of how this operation would prevent generation of [acid mine drainage] was limited," the OSM report said. "Groundwater impacts [were] just barely mentioned, and flooding was not mentioned at all."In its report, OSM said that Vandalia did not consider all reasonable alternatives to the two valley fills proposed for the mine."The applicant needs to include a description of environmental consequences of all alternatives," the report said. "It is important that analyses are presented only for meaningful project impacts.
"The applicant should address short- and long-term impacts; primary and secondary impacts; and residual impacts," it said. "Mitigation should be addressed following the review of impacts for each resource component being evaluated and should be presented for each alternative."The other OSM reports found numerous problems with permit applications from Fola Coal Co., Alex Energy Inc., Elk Run Coal Co., Marrowbone Development and Appalachian Mining.In one case, the Alex Energy application, DEP did not prepare a report on the mine's cumulative hydrologic impacts because the company did not provide enough information to allow such a report to be prepared.The Alex Energy report also states that the company has not shown that flat or gently rolling terrain created by mountaintop removal is necessary for the proposed post-mining land use of commercial woodlands."The permit application should include a realistic and comprehensive forest management plan which takes into account data and projections on the expected need and market for the woodland products to be grown," the OSM report says.
"Plans should be provided for planting, maintenance, harvesting of the woodland products, and management beyond to demonstrate a commercial operation with sustainable yields of woodland products can be achieved."OSM staffers are reviewing state mining permit applications because of complaints that the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation issues permits that don't comply with state and federal mining laws.But last month, OSM Director Kathy Karpan said the agency would no longer prepare written reports about its permit reviews.The decision was made after the Gazette published stories about two OSM permit reports that indicated state applications were full of problems.Last week, Karpan submitted to Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., the second monthly report on mining permit activity in West Virginia.The report showed that no new mines were approved during May.

To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.

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