Environmental groups challenge ADEM permit for MCoal’s Rosa mine

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper and Friends of the Locust Fork, filed suit this week with the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, challenging an administrative law judge’s approval of a permit for a 3,225-acre coal mine in Blount County. Few coal mine permits have ever been appealed to this level in Alabama, according to the SELC.

The environmental groups contend the water pollution control permit for the Rosa Mine issued by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) in October 2009 violates federal and state laws on multiple counts, and would fail utterly to protect water quality. According to the groups, ADEM:

failed to conduct a site-specific environmental analysis, instead issuing a blanket, “rubber-stamp” permit virtually identical to the one issued for Shepherd Bend Mine in Walker County, a much smaller site.

failed to require a pollution abatement and prevention plan from MCoal.

allowed pollution to be discharged into an already impaired stream.

granted a blanket exemption for pollution levels when it rains.

failed to require limits on contaminants such as chlorides, aluminum, and other heavy metals that are common in coal mine discharges.

“The permit ADEM issued for this huge industrial operation is woefully deficient. There are virtually no meaningful protections for the Locust Fork,” said SELC senior attorney Gil Rogers. “We are committed to protecting these resources and the communities that depend on them, and are not giving up the fight.”

“Heaven forbid there should ever be a major pollution event on the Locust Fork River, but, as we know from the TVA coal ash spill and the BP oil spill, catastrophes do occur,” said Sam Howell, former president of Friends of the Locust Fork River. “That’s why our groups are taking these extraordinary steps.”

“The Locust Fork near the Rosa Mine is an absolutely beautiful stretch of river where thousands of people from across the country go each year to enjoy scenery, fishing, swimming, boating, photography, and more,” said Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper. “This permit should not have been issued, and we’ll continue to advocate its revocation.”

MCoal’s mining operations at Rosa Mine began last year following the Alabama Surface Mining Commission’s permit approval in late 2009. In the summer and fall of last year, the mining commission approved the addition of two more industrial structures at the Rosa Mine site: a dry coal separator and a wet preparation plant, also known as a coal washer.

A report recently surfaced that MCoal’s long-range plans include mining of areas on top of Berry Mountain not previously targeted for mining, and for which the company has not yet acquired mineral rights. Those plans are said to include underground and trench mining in addition to the auger mining operations initially permitted. A map is said to exist showing the mountain top as the final stage of a three-stage plan the company has developed for the area.

Visit the Rosa Mine website for those and further details on permit revisions and MCoal mining plans.