Environmental groups are requesting that EPA strip certain coal states of their authority to issue Clean Water Act (CWA) permits, contending that the states improperly accepted wastewater discharge permit applications that were incomplete and overly flexible. The groups also contend that the states failed to require pollution limits that met federal and state requirements.
Environmental groups led by the Sierra Club have petitioned the EPA to withdraw approval of various coal mining states’ permitting authority under CWA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. The petitions focus on the failure of the permitting authorities in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky to comply with CWA requirements, and then request that EPA assume the administration and enforcement of the NPDES permitting in those states.
The permitting activity subject to scrutiny involves wastewater permits issued to mountaintop mining projects in the coal states. In the Virginia complaint, the groups allege that the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) routinely approves permits on the basis of incomplete permit applications and never considers existing water quality when approving permits as it allows permittees to submit effluent characterization six months after permit reissuance, rather than prior to reissuance. The complaint also contends that DMME has issued permits that fail to comply with the CWA because:
• DMME repeatedly issues permits that are not protective of the narrative water quality standard and therefore do not conform to the requirements of federal regulations.
• The agency has a policy of applying BMPs as the chief pollution control for point sources in TMDL watersheds.
• DMME’s guidance does not require any pollution reduction actions for permits in TMDL watersheds beyond those already required of all mining operations.
• Under the NPDES Program, BMPs are not permitted except in very narrow circumstances that do not apply to DMME’s mining permits.
• DMME fails to conduct reasonable potential analyses for heavy metals.
For the full description of the petitions, please refer to the sources section.
Red-on-line EHS Legal Counsel
West Virginia: Petition for Withdrawal of NPDES Delegation