What EPA is Doing to Reduce the Adverse Impacts of Surface Coal Mining in Appalachia
On this page, you can learn about how EPA implements environmental laws that affect surface coal mining in Appalachia, and about other EPA efforts to reduce the adverse impacts of coal mining:
- Interagency and cross-program guidance
- National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA)
- Clean Water Act (CWA)
- Enforcement activities
- Partnership programs
Memorandum: Improving EPA Review of Appalachian Surface Coal Mining Operations Under the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and the Environmental Justice Executive Order, July 21, 2011
In 2005, EPA, in conjunction with:
- the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
- the U.S. Department of the Interior's
- Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and
- Fish and Wildlife Service, and
the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection,
- most of eastern Kentucky,
- southern West Virginia,
- western Virginia,
- eastern Ohio, and
- scattered areas of eastern Tennessee.
- Related information about NEPA reviews:
- EPA website on the National Environmental Policy Act
- EIS database -- provides information about EISs prepared by federal agencies, as well as EPA's comments concerning the EISs.
- EPA website on the National Environmental Policy Act
Mountaintop mining operations are regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
NPDES permits: CWA section 402, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permitting Program, requires that coal mining operators receive permits in order to discharge pollutants to rivers, streams and other surface waters. EPA has granted 46 states, including all states in Appalachia, principal authority to issue and enforce NPDES permits. Through its Regional offices, EPA provides oversight and technical assistance to the states.
- Effluent guidelines: NPDES permits for mining operations incorporate effluent guidelinesNational regulations that set effluent limitations for given industries and pollutants. These limitations are typically numeric restrictions on quantities or concentrations in wastewater discharges, and can also require use of best management practices. for mine drainage activities, coal storage facilities, and coal preparation plants. CWA sections 301, 304 and 306 authorize us to set effluent guidelines. Standards are based on the performance of the best available control and treatment technologies.
Water quality criteria and standards: NPDES permits also incorporate limits to meet water quality criteria and other water quality standards, as needed. Section 304 of the CWA authorizes EPA to develop recommended water quality criteria that reflect the latest scientific understanding of the relationship between the amount of a pollutant and its potential impacts on human health and the environment. These criteria may apply to contaminated surface waters from mountaintop mining operations if they are either adopted by states and approved by EPA or promulgated by EPA.
EPA's recommended water quality criteria are not rules, nor do they automatically become part of a state's water quality standards. States and tribes must adopt into their standards water quality criteria that are scientifically sound and protect the designated uses of the water bodies in each state. These criteria can include scientifically defensible criteria that are different from EPA's national recommended criteria, as long as the criteria are scientifically sound and protective of the designated use.
- Section 404 permits: Section 404 of the CWA regulates the discharge of dredged and fill material into waters of the United States. In coal mining operations, this includes discharges of rock and soil into streams and wetlands as part of valley fills. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts the day to day permitting program under Section 404. We coordinate with the Corps on the environmental review through the public notice process, and under CWA Section 404(q) and CWA Section 404(c) procedures.
- Section 404 permit program
- CWA Section 404 policy and guidance, including on surface coal mining operations
- EPA CWA Section 404(c) ‘veto’ of Spruce No. 1 Surface Mine, Logan County, West Virginia. You can view additional older materials about the Spruce No. 1 mine by searching the EPA archive for "Spruce No. 1" (include the quotation marks in your search for best results) Search EPA Archive
- View information on compensatory mitigation for streams in Appalachia presented at the 2011 Appalachian Stream Mitigation Workshop.
Southern Coal Corporation Clean Water Settlement. In September 2016, EPA and the DOJ announced a settlement with Southern Coal Corporation and 26 affiliated mining companies that requires the companies to make comprehensive upgrades to their coal mining and processing operations to prevent discharges of polluted wastewater from their mines in Appalachia. Learn more about this settlement.
Imminent and substantial endangerment. Under most major environmental authorities, we have the authority to take action when pollution is presenting an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health. These authorities include CWA sections 311 and 504; section 1431 of the Safe Drinking Water Act; Clean Air Act sections 112 and 303; RCRA section 7003; and CERCLA sections 104 and 106.
National Enforcement Initiative. Mining and mineral processing facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector, costing billions of dollars to address the public health and environmental threats to communities. Through the National Enforcement Initiative: Reducing Pollution from Mineral Processing Operations, we have reduced the risk of mining waste contamination of drinking water, rivers, and streams, and work to cleanup mining sites across the nation.
EPA research on surface coal mining examines the impacts of mining on headwater streams and other water resources near mining sites. This research lends scientific support to guidance documents for land managers to provide for mining flexibility while protecting the environment and public health.
- Learn more about EPA research on mountaintop mining
- Research results from the Science Inventory, a searchable database of research products primarily from EPA's Office of Research and Development
- Specific reports:
- EPA Science Matters Newsletter: Aquatic Ecosystems and Mountaintop Mining: Studying the Connections (Published January 2014)
Coalbed Methane Outreach Program
Since 1994, EPA's Coalbed Methane Outreach Program (CMOP) has worked cooperatively with the coal mining industry in the United States – and other major coal-producing countries – to reduce emissions of methane from coal mining. By helping to identify and implement methods to recover and use methane instead of emitting it to the atmosphere, CMOP has played a key role in the United States' efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address global climate change.