This news story originally provided by
The Charleston Gazette
February 11, 2005
Bush plan streamlines strip mine permits
By Ken Ward Jr.
The Bush administration on Thursday announced a plan to allow
states to streamline the way coal operators obtain new strip mine
Under the plan, state mining regulators and the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers could adopt plans for a single permit application to
replace the myriad documents companies must currently submit.
Critics said that the move would give states and the U.S. Office
of Surface Mining more power and erode the authority of the federal
Environmental Protection Agency, which has been more critical of
mountaintop removal mining.
But Bush administration officials said their plan would benefit
not only the mining industry, but also the public and citizens who
want to police mining practices.
Our intent is to create a collaborative review process with
early, close coordination among the agencies, said OSM Director
Jeff Jarrett. We want to improve the timeliness and clarity of the
permitting process and to enhance communication among all involved.
OSM, EPA, the corps and the Fish and Wildlife Service jointly
announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding, or MOU,
which allows the streamlined permit process.
The 11-page agreement puts in place a proposal the agencies made
when they released a draft study of mountaintop removal in May 2003.
But, the final version of that study meant to examine minings
impacts and propose tougher regulations is not expected until 2006
or perhaps 2007, according to OSM budget documents submitted to
Congress this week.
They are taking an action before they finish their study, said
Joan Mulhern, a lawyer with Earthjustice, a Washington-based
environmental group. Its jumping the gun.
Currently, coal operators must obtain several permits from state
regulators, who enforce the federal strip mine law, and the corps,
which handles fill permits under the Clean Water Act.
OSM is supposed to make sure states do a good job complying with
strip mine rules, and EPA has oversight over the corps enforcement
of water pollution rules.
Under the policy announced Thursday, state mining regulators and
the corps could get together and write a plan for companies to
submit just one permit application that would provide information
for all of the permits required.
The policy would allow companies to go through just one public
review of draft permits, instead of numerous comment periods and
hearings that can currently be required.
It would be one process, said OSM spokesman Mike Gauldin. You
would still have to have the different permits, but you could
compile the information for all of them at once.
Mulhern noted that the policy does not appear to include the kind
of EPA oversight over the corps that the Clean Water Act intends.
The MOU weakens the role of the federal agencies most
responsible for protecting Appalachias streams and communities of
people and species that depend on them: the EPA and the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, Mulhern said.
Sadly, EPA and Fish and Wildlife are willingly giving up their
role as watchdogs, Mulhern said. They signed off on this plan to
give more say in the permitting process to the agency that most
wants to weaken or remove all environmental restrictions on
mountaintop removal coal mining.
Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at EPA,
said, This MOU offers a framework for better coordination and
information-sharing for agencies reviewing proposed surface coal
We believe this MOU is an important step in improving the permit
decision-making process, Grumbles said.
The MOU is available online at
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call