By Elizabeth E. Payne
Alpha Natural Resources and its subsidiaries continue to hold four active surface coal mining permits on West Virginia’s Coal River Mountain. The active permits cover 5,600 acres.
Coal River Mountain Watch argues that one permit for the Eagle 2 Mine, which covers 2,040 acres, should be nullified. The local nonprofit group cites a provision in federal surface mining law that says permits “shall terminate” if mining hasn’t started within three years of a permit being issued.
In dispute is the definition of “shall.” The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has not interpreted “shall” to be binding. Coal River Mountain Watch has challenged this definition in district court. A similar case was successful in Alaska. The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is expected to clarify the rule.
In December 2016, the state approved a mountaintop removal permit for the Long Ridge No. 1 Mine. “[WVDEP] placed Alpha Natural Resources’ profits over the health of the people, the protection of the environment, and basic human decency,” wrote CRMW on its website.