WASHINGTON, D.C. – Citizens groups filed a formal petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this morning alleging that Virginia and its Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME) has systematically failed to comply with the requirements of the Clean Water Act since 2011. Specifically, the groups, including Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, focused on the failure of DMME to regulate mountaintop removal mining in accordance with the clean water law.
The filing highlights a series of gross violations by the agency, including the unlawful acceptance of incomplete permit applications, inappropriately extending pollution compliance times beyond hard deadlines, promising the mining industry that it would take no action when firms pollute the most impaired streams, and routinely failing to include pollution limits in discharge permits, allowing surface mines to pollute Virginia streams with virtually unlimited levels of toxic pollution.
“The Commonwealth’s ongoing failure to protect Virginians from the harmful consequences of mountaintop removal mining—or even to simply enforce rudimentary protections on the books—is the reason we are demanding that EPA step in” said Glen Besa, Chapter Director of the Virginia Sierra Club. “These practices originate with past Administrations, most recently with Governor Bob McDonnell. Our action is directed at the EPA, but we are hopeful that by filing this petition the McAuliffe Administration will shake up DMME and ensure that Virginia coal mining is properly regulated under the Clean Water Act.”
Since 1975, Virginia has been authorized by EPA to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program for regulating the discharge of pollutants to water bodies within its borders.
“Virginia has failed to protect our streams and rivers -- which is why EPA must intervene” said Jane Branham of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “The people and communities of Virginia deserve better than the legacy left us by the coal industry: a broken economy and a polluted environment. We hope that the McAuliffe Administration will work with the EPA to improve the state’s regulation of mountaintop removal and surface coal mining so that it won’t be necessary for the EPA to take over the program.”
“Coal companies have been polluting the communities where they operate for decades,” said Erin Savage, Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices. “Mining laws meant to protect citizens don’t work unless they are enforced by the states. We need EPA to step in to ensure environmental laws are being enforced in Southwest Virginia.”
In 2009, the citizen groups filed similar petitions with the EPA regarding the lack of enforcement by Kentucky and West Virginia. Today, coalitions working in those states filed new petitions identifying significant problems with the ways that Kentucky and West Virginia are implementing their Clean Water Act programs. Those violations include failing to protect narrative water quality standards and failing to issue permits for so-called reclaimed mine sites that continue to discharge harmful pollutants like selenium.