PADEP Permits State’s Water Resources to Fall Through the Cracks

Report Uncovers Failures in Pennsylvania Coal Mine Permit Review Process

Bridgeville, PA. ///July 22, 2014/// A groundbreaking study commissioned by Citizens Coal Council (CCC) brings to light chronic failures in the permit review process within the PennsylvaniaDepartment of Environmental Protection (PADEP).  The in-depth analysis found that significant omissions in coal mining permits accepted by the PADEP put Pennsylvania’s precious water resources in danger.

The report, The Illusion of Environmental Protection, prepared by senior ecologists at Schmid & Company, Inc., analyzed the permit application and review process for Foundation Mine, which would undermine more than 9,400 acres of mostly “High Quality” watersheds and a designated Environmental Justice Area in Greene County, Pennsylvania.

Not only did the permit application fail to provide crucial information regarding the area’s water resources and other natural features, but the PADEP accepted it for review despite these failings.  Lacking adequate information on which to base its decisions, the PADEP cannot fulfill its legal mandate to protect and preserve the natural resources of the Commonwealth in accordance with Article 1, Section 27 of the PA Constitution.

A 30-page “Summary” of the report, also being released today, was compiled on behalf of the Greene County Watershed Alliance (GCWA).

Terri Davin, GCWA’s President, said that her organization has many serious concerns about the PADEP’s chronic failure to protect the Commonwealth’s environment, particularly Pennsylvania’s precious water resources, from the widespread damage of longwall mining.

“My biggest concern is that some of the best streams in Greene County — in the Browns Creek and the South Fork Tenmile Creek watersheds — are not receiving the protection they need to keep their exceptional values,” said Ms. Davin.

CCC’s Executive Director, Aimee Erickson, emphasizes: “The study demonstrates once again the inadequate protection being provided to coalfield citizens.  This is not unique to the PADEP, unfortunately; it is true in all states where the more destructive longwall mining method is being used.”

“People have an expectation that the PADEP is administering — and enforcing — the laws as written andintended.  That’s the duty of the Department of Environmental Protection.  The PADEP’s Mining Bureau obviously is failing in that duty,” said the study’s lead author, Stephen P. Kunz

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Aimee Erickson, Citizens Coal Council, at (412) 257-2223 or aimee@citizenscoalcouncil.org

Terri Davin, Greene County Watershed Alliance, at (724) 852-1210 or greenewatersheds@gmail.com

Stephen P. Kunz, Schmid & Company, Inc., at (610) 356-1416 or spkunz@aol.com

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Act 54 removed certain prohibitions on the surface subsidence damage associated with longwall mining.  In so doing it removed any incentive to avoid or minimize damages, allowing the advancement of longwall technology to faroutpace the ability of the regulatory process to control it.   Modern longwall mines cause more damage than longwall mines 20 years ago, and much more damage than traditional room-and-pillar mines to streams, homes, wells, aquifers, dams, highways, and commercial buildings.  In some cases the damages are irreparable.

The application reviewed in this study was submitted during 2010 by Foundation Mining, LLC (a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources), and was the first new longwall mine application since Act 54 was passed in 1994.  This application was under review by PADEP for three years.  Although withdrawn before a final permit decision could be made, the application provides a unique insight into the inadequacies of the PADEP permit review process for longwall mines.

Mine applicants are required to provide a detailed inventory of resources within the permit area.   Without complete and accurate pre-mining data, the  PADEP cannot properly evaluate potential impacts on water resources, natural habitats, and the communities being undermined.

The application submitted to the State did not include major facilities essential to a functioning longwall mine operation, including coal refuse disposal areas and a 650-million-gallon water impoundment for coal processing.  The missing facilities, noted in a federal Clean Water Act permit application under review at the same time, would cover more than 1,200 acres and directly impact, among other things, about 8 additional miles of High Quality streams.  This “piecemealing” of the mine project in an apparent attempt to downplay its overall impacts was just one of the significant issues uncovered in this study.  

ABOUT THE ORGANIZATIONS

The Citizens Coal Council is a national network that advocates for full enforcement of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) and its delegated state programs. Our mission is to inform, empower and work for and with communities affected by the mining, processing and use of coal. For more about us, see our website at http://www.citizenscoalcouncil.org.

The Greene County Watershed Alliance is a non-profit watershed organization made up of volunteer watershed associations and community members that came together in an effort to protect and preserve our water resources so future generations will have clean, safe, drinking water, watershed based recreation, a sustainable economy, and the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty that make each of our watersheds special. Visit: http://www.greenewatersheds.org