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HomeNewsArmy Corps of Engineers working to address mountaintop removal coal mining concerns

Army Corps of Engineers working to address mountaintop removal coal mining concerns

united_states_army_corps_of_engineers_logoThe U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is undertaking a process designed to limit the use of Nationwide Permit 21 to authorize surface coal mining and the discharge of the resulting dredged or fill material into waters of the United States in the Appalachian region of the following states: Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia until it expires on March 18, 2012. The Corps goal is to enhance environmental protection of aquatic resources by requiring surface coal mining projects in the affected region to obtain individual permit coverage under the Clean Water Act (CWA), which includes increased public and agency involvement in the permit review process, including an opportunity for public comment on individual projects.

Hobet Mine comparison (before) Hobet Mine comparison (after)
Landsat satellite data collected in 1987 and 2002 show (click to zoom) the growth of the Hobet-21 mountaintop mine in the Mud River watershed of West Virginia. The mine expanded across thousands of acres and produced one of the state’s longest valley fills when rock and dirt were placed into Connelly Branch. The center portion of the mine site had been partially reclaimed with grass (light green) as of 2002. [NASA images by Jesse Allen, based on data provided by the Global Land Cover Facility (GLCF).]

Nationwide permit (NWP) 21 was first issued in 1982, pursuant to section 404(e) of the Clean Water Act, to authorize structures, work, and discharges associated with surface coal mining activities, provided those activities were authorized by the Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining, or by states with approved programs under Title V of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA). Each time since 1982 that the Corps reissued its NWPs, it also reissued NWP 21, often with modifications that were made after considering comments received in response to the various proposals to reissue that NWP.

Since NWP 21 was first issued in 1982, surface coal mining practices have changed, and surface coal mining activities in the Appalachian region has become more prevalent and as such has resulted in greater environmental impacts. Mountaintop surface coal mining activities increased because many of the remaining coal seams in the Appalachian region were less accessible to non-surface coal mining techniques. Since the late 1990s, there have been increased concerns regarding the individual and cumulative adverse effects of those activities on the human environment and the natural resources in this region, including streams and other aquatic resources.

The wholesale use of NWP 21 to authorize surface coal mining waste discharges has resulted in adverse environmental impacts that may be more than minimal on a cumulative basis. For this reason, the Corps now believes that impacts of these activities on jurisdictional waters of the United States, particularly cumulative impacts, would be more appropriately evaluated through the individual permit process, which entails increased public and agency involvement, including an opportunity for public comment on individual projects.

Public Comments

In accordance with the suspension and modification procedures provided in the NWP regulations, public comment is invited, and a public hearing may be requested. After evaluating all comments pertaining to the proposed suspension and modification that are received in response to this notice and any public hearings, the Corps will publish its decisions concerning the NWP 21 suspension and modification in the Federal Register. If NWP 21 is suspended, the suspension would remain in effect until NWP 21 is modified or expires, or until the suspension is lifted.

Written comments, including requests for a public hearing, must be submitted on or before August 14, 2009.

You may submit comments, identified by docket number COE–2009–0032, by any of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
  • Mail: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Attn: CECW-CO (Attn: Ms. Desiree Hann), 441 G Street, NW., Washington, DC 20314–1000.
  • Hand Delivery/Courier: Due to security requirements, the Corps cannot receive comments by hand delivery or courier.
  • They will not accept e-mailed or faxed comments.

The Corp will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov under docket number COE–2009–0032. Instructions: When submitting comments via http://www.regulations.gov, direct your comments to docket number COE–2009–0032. All comments received will be included in the public docket without change and may be made available on-line at http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information provided, unless the commenter indicates that the comment includes information claimed to be Confidential Business Information (CBI) or other information whose disclosure is restricted by statute. Do not submit information that you consider to be CBI, or otherwise protected, through regulations.gov or email.

The regulations.gov web site is an anonymous access system, which means they will not know your identity or contact information unless you provide it in the body of your comment.

If you submit an electronic comment by sending a CD–ROM to Corps Headquarters, they recommend that you submit those comments via overnight mail to ensure timely receipt. The Corps also recommend that you include your name and other contact information in the body of your comment and with any disk or CD–ROM you submit. If they cannot read your comment because of technical difficulties and cannot contact you for clarification, then they may not be able to consider your comment. Electronic comments should avoid the use of any special characters, any form of encryption, and be free of any defects or viruses.

For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, go to http://www.regulations.gov. All documents in the docket are listed. Although listed in the index, some information is not publicly available, such as CBI or other information whose disclosure is restricted by statute. Certain other material, such as copyrighted material, is not placed on the Internet and will be publicly available only in hard copy form.

For more information

See the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Proposed Suspension and Modification of Nationwide Permit 21, or contact Ms. Desiree Hann or Mr. David Olson, Headquarters, Operations and Regulatory Community of Practice, Washington, DC. Ms. Hann can be reached at 202–761–4560 and Mr. Olson can be reached at 202–761–4922.

Editor’s note: Portions of the text in article have been taken from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ Proposed Suspension and Modification of Nationwide Permit 21, and wording may have been modified for our summary.

Bill Larson
Bill Larson
Bill Larson is  is politically and socially active in the community. Bill is a member of the Friends of Dunbar Cave. You can reach him via telephone at 931-249-0043 or via the email address below.


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