Last week, EPA proposed to veto a permit for the No. 1 Spruce Mine in West Virginia. Yesterday, EPA went much farther, announcing new guidance – effective immediately – which will impose numeric water quality based effluent limits, or WQBELs, on effluent from surface mining projects. EPA has at least tentatively concluded that high conductivity resulting from discharges of mountaintop fill has adversely affected streams downstream of surface mining operations.
The guidance is fairly straightforward – and for those to whom is it not sufficiently simple, EPA has provided a six-page summary version. Basically, EPA has concluded that permits for mountaintop mining must contain WQBELs that will ensure that in-stream conductivity levels do not exceed 500 microsiemens per centimeter (500 uS/cm). If modeling suggests that mining activities will result in any level above 300 uS/cm, “EPA should work with the permitting authority to ensure that the permit includes conditions that protect against conductivity levels exceeding 500 uS/cm.”
If you’re wondering what those levels mean and how big an impact the requirement to impose WQBELs will have, E&E Daily reported that EPA Administrator Jackson stated last evening that there are "no or very few valley fills that are going to meet this standard."
Though the guidance is effective immediately, EPA is characterizing it as a proposal and will take comment until December 1, 2010.