In another challenge of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s failure to protect the purity of Alabama’s waterways, the Southern Environmental Law Center today petitioned for a hearing on the permit issued last month for a 3,255-acre coal mine in Blount County. The proposed mine would have more than 60 pollution discharge points into the main stem or feeder streams of the Locust Fork, a tributary of the Black Warrior River that is already on ADEM’s list of the worst polluted streams in the state due to sediment.
Today’s petition was filed on behalf of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper and The Friends of the Locust Fork River. SELC already represents the Black Warrior Riverkeeper in an ongoing legal challenge of ADEM’s actions in permitting the Shepherd Bend coal mine in Walker County. In both cases, the agency has ignored federal and state laws and its own regulations.
"Ultimately, the problem goes beyond these projects, and lands squarely on the shoulders of ADEM which is consistently failing to protect water quality throughout the state. The Rosa and Shepherd Bend coal mines are exhibit A," said SELC Senior Attorney Gil Rogers.
The Rosa coal mine permit is deficient in numerous ways. The mine would discharge pollution into a segment of Locust Fork which is listed—by ADEM—as "impaired" under the Clean Water Act. Alabama law prohibits causing or contributing to the pollution of an impaired water body. The agency acknowledged the impaired status of the Locust Fork in their permit rationale, but issued the permit anyway.
"ADEM needs to quit rubber-stamping these pollution permits and get serious about its role as the environmental regulator of coal mine operations," said Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke. "Our waterways are much too precious to be so utterly neglected and exploited."
Also, in an identical violation as in the Shepherd Bend permit, ADEM issued the Rosa mine permit without first receiving a pollution abatement and prevention plan from the company, MCoal, detailing how pollution would be kept out of nearby waters, as its own rules require. Rather, following ADEM’s practice of many years, MCoal said it would submit the plan to the Alabama Surface Mining Commission. However, the commission has no authority over water pollution, Rogers said, and assessing a mining permit for compliance with water quality standards without a pollution abatement plan is meaningless.