The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

State News

June 24, 2013

EPA criticizes plan for King Coal project

CHARLESTON — A study of a proposed segment of the King Coal Highway and a related surface mine doesn’t consider alternatives that could reduce the project’s adverse effects on the environment and health, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a letter released Monday.

The EPA said that the study is limited and the information it provides is inadequate. The agency recommended that alternatives be evaluated to ensure that the least environmentally damaging option is chosen.

The study, a draft supplemental environmental impact statement, received an EU-3 rating (environmentally unsatisfactory — inadequate information) from the EPA.

“Our experience in Appalachia demonstrates that it is possible to improve mine design to better protect water quality and the environment, reduce costs and maximize coal recovery,” EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin wrote in the letter, which was sent Friday to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration and the state Department of Transportation.

The corps and the FHA prepared the study in cooperation with the state agency.

The study involves a segment of the King Coal Highway from Delbarton to Belo. CONSOL Energy plans to grade land for the road bed as part of its proposed Buffalo Mountain surface mine.

Buffalo Mountain would bury more than 7 miles of high quality streams and create a dozen valley fills, the EPA said, noting that the mine is one of the largest surface mines ever proposed in Appalachia.

“Our concerns focus on the nature and extent of direct, indirect, and cumulative adverse impacts to human health and the environment expected to result from the construction and operation of the proposed Project and the lack of information in the Draft SEIS assessing these effects,” Garvin said.

Once completed, the King Coal Highway would run 90 miles from Williamson to Bluefield and be part of the Interstate 73/74 corridor. West Virginia has enlisted coal companies to help build the road. Through these public-private partnerships, the companies keep the coal they mine while grading the land for road-building in the process. A 12-mile section opened in 2011.

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