New Hill Mine

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New Hill Mine is a surface coal mining operation in Monongalia County, West Virginia, operated by Patriot Mining and owned by International Coal Group.

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Conductivity limits

On March 10, 2011, West Virginia regulators were ordered to add new limits to a permit for the mine, forcing them for the first time to regulate "conductivity pollution" that scientists say is causing widespread water quality damage downstream from coal-mining operations. The state Environmental Quality Board sided with the Sierra Club, which sought the new permit conditions in its appeal of the expansion of New Hill Mine, authorized by the Department of Environmental Protection. Board members unanimously sent the permit back to DEP, with instructions that the agency determine appropriate discharge limits for conductivity, sulfates and total dissolved solids and write those limits into the company's water pollution permit.[1]

The case specifically dealt with DEP's approval of a permit for ICG subsidiary Patriot Mining to add a new, 225-acre surface mine - New Hill West - to an existing operation. But the appeal put attention on mountaintop removal and the growing body of science EPA cites showing water quality problems downstream from large mining operations.[1]

Scientists used electrical conductivity as a key indicator of stream health and the presence of other important pollutants such as chlorides, sulfides and dissolved solids. Recent research has found increased conductivity downstream from mining operations in Appalachia, with research linking it to impaired aquatic life. After a hearing in February 2011, board members agreed that the scientific evidence indicates a "strong correlation" between increased conductivity and damage to aquatic life. They did not, as the Sierra Club asked, set a specific discharge limit that DEP must use when it revises the ICG permit. The board issued a report, and gave the DEP 45 days to study the issue and add appropriate discharge limits to the permit.[1]

Legal challenge

After the state Environmental Quality Board (EQB) ruled against the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, saying that WVDEP wrongly failed to include discharge limits for conductivity — and also for sulfates and total dissolved solids, or TDS — when it approved the mine permit, Patriot Mining (then part of International Coal Group, which has since been bought by Arch Coal) and WVDEP both appealed to Kanawha Circuit Court.

In October 2011, Judge Stucky ruled that the EQB didn’t make clear the reasons for its decision, sending the case back to the board, with instructions that they "Provide written supplemental findings detailing a reasoned and articulate decision." Patriot then filed a motion asking the board to clarify its previous decision to block the permit pending the outcome of the case, and that it wanted the judge to dissolve the stay on the mine, as Patriot needs production from the New Hill West Mine to meet its coal contracts with the Morgantown Energy Associates power plant. Patriot also said that the company’s net earnings have dropped by $2 million a month because of the ruling and if the EQB won’t lift its stay, Patriot wants the Sierra Club — plaintiff in the case — to be forced to post a $2 million per month bond to cover any losses, should the company eventually win the appeal.[2]

Mine Data

  • MSHA ID: 4607654
  • Operator: Patriot Mining Company Inc
  • Controller: International Coal Group
  • Union:
  • County: Monongalia
  • State: West Virginia
  • Latitude: 39.61
  • Longitude: -80.09
  • 2007 Production (short tons): 555,551
  • Coal Type: Bituminous
  • Mining Method: Surface
  • Mine Status: Active
  • Average No. of Employees: 38

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References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ken Ward Jr., "DEP ordered to add discharge limits for conductivity" Charleston Gazette, March 10, 2011.
  2. Ken Ward Jr., "Judge sends Patriot permit back to EQB" Coal Tattoo, Oct. 11, 2011.

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