Category Archives: Coal and Water

Items on the various connections between water resources and the mining and use of coal.

Abandoned Coal Mine Clean-up Examined in Nov. 28, 2016, PBS NewsHour Report

On November 28, 2016, the PBS NewsHour aired a 5 min./25 sec. report on coal mine reclamation and particularly on clean-up of abandoned coal-mining sites.  “Why cleaning up abandoned coal mines is so important — and difficult,” available online at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/cleaning-abandoned-coal-mines-important-difficult/, discusses issues of waste left at abandoned mines, reclamation at active mines, potential water-quality impacts of abandoned mine wastes, and funding.  The report includes examples from Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

Proposed Settlement Announced Sep. 30, 2016, for Alleged Southern Coal Corp. Water Pollution Violations at Operations in Virginia and Five Other Appalachian States

On September 30, 2016, the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed consent agreement for a lawsuit against the Southern Coal Corporation (headquartered in Roanoke, Va.) and 26 affiliated companies over alleged water pollution violations between 2009 and 2014 at company mining operations in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.  Under the proposed settlement, the company would pay a $900,000 civil penalty and implement several measures to ensure better compliance with permits under the Clean Water Act and state laws.  The proposed settlement will undergo a 30-day public-comment period starting on October 7, 2016.  EPA information on the proposed settlement is available online at https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/southern-coal-corporation-clean-water-settlement.

Sources:
Southern Coal Corporation to Make System-Wide Upgrades to Reduce Water Pollution from Mining Operations in Appalachia, U.S. EPA News Release, 9/30/16.

Justice coal operations agree to $900,000 civil penalty to settle environmental lawsuit, Roanoke Times, 10/4/16.

Clean Power Plan Lawsuit Against U.S. EPA Overview and Information Sources – Full Court of Appeals Hears Oral Arguments on September 27, 2016; Supreme Court on Feb. 9, 2016, Granted Stay of Regulation Implementation While Litigation Proceeds

Here’s an overview, as of Sept. 28, 2016, of some developments in the federal lawsuit by 27 states over the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan for regulating carbon emissions from power plants.  The Clean Power Plan, formally known as “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units,” was published in the Federal Register on October 23, 2015.  The case is State of West Virginia et al. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency et al. in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Developments (starting with oldest)

On November 4, 2015, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that Virginia would be part of a coalition of 14 states plus several localities seeking to intervene to support the U.S. EPA in the lawsuit.

On February 9, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of EPA’s implementation of the regulation until the lawsuit has run its course. The stay will remain is effect while the case returns to the D.C. Appeals Court to hear the merits of the lawsuit and for any appeals of that court’s eventual ruling.  That court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in June 2016.  Responding to the stay, Va. Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a February 10 news release that “we will stay on course and continue to develop the elements for a Virginia plan to reduce carbon emissions and stimulate our clean energy economy.”

On May 16, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided that the full court will hear the case, rather than a three-judge panel.  Previously, the smaller panel had been scheduled to hear the case on June 2, 2016.

On September 27, 2016, for about seven hours, the D.C. Appeals Court heard oral arguments in the case.  The court’s 10 active judges were present; Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland recused himself from the case.  According to the CNN account of the hearings (Appeals court hears high-stakes challenge to Obama’s clean power plan, CNN, 9/27/16), “[d]ozens of lawyers from the government, industry, and public interest groups packed” the courtroom.  For more on the day’s arguments, see E&E Publishing’s “Clean Power Plan Hub,” online at http://www.eenews.net/interactive/clean_power_plan.

Sources and ongoing list of news articles related to the lawsuit:

Appeals court hears high-stakes challenge to Obama’s clean power plan, CNN, 9/27/16.

Invoking Scalia, judges question whether EPA bent the law, Greenwire, 9/27/16.

D.C. federal appeals court hears oral arguments on controversial Clean Power Plan, West Virginia Metro News Network, 9/27/16.

The full appeals court in Washington has elected to hear arguments in the legal fight over President Barack Obama’s plan to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, potentially accelerating the case’s path to the Supreme Court – Associated Press, as published by U.S. News & World Report, 5/16/16

Dominion goes to bat for Clean Power Plan, Daily Press, 4/4/16 [“Dominion Power filed an amicus brief Friday [4/1/16] in the national lawsuit against the federal Clean Power Plan, pushing back against arguments plan critics have made in an effort to derail new carbon rules.  The company didn’t lay out a firm yes-or-no position on the plan itself, which will likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.  But the brief puts the weight of Virginia’s energy giant behind key aspects of the plan to cap carbon production at utility plants.”]

Herring joins coalition to curb climate change, Augusta Free Press, 3/29/16

[Virginia] Chamber of Commerce joins suit against EPA rules, WRIC-TV Richmond, 2/28/16.

EPA Chief: Clean Power Plan to Win on Merits, Power Magazine, 2/25/16.

Clean Power Plan: Challengers question EPA’s authority, rulemaking process in briefs, E&E Publishing EnergyWire, 2/22/16 [challengers to the Clean Power Plan filed briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on 2/19/16].

Clean Power Plan: ‘Heads are still spinning’ after Scalia’s death, SCOTUS ruling, E&E Publishing ClimateWire, 2/16/16.

States Evaluating Options Following CPP Stay, RTO Insider, 2/14/16.

Some States Forging Ahead With Emissions Reduction Plans Despite Supreme Court Ruling, Insideclimate News, 2/12/16.

Governor McAuliffe Statement on U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision to Stay the Clean Power Plan, Virginia Governor’s Office News Release, 2/10/16.

Will a surprising Supreme Court move shake the Paris climate accord?” – PBS NewsHour (6 min./16 sec. video), 2/10/16.

Supreme Court puts the brakes on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Washington Post, 2/9/16.

Virginia Joins Multi-State Coalition Supporting Economic, Environmental, and Health Benefits of Clean Air
, Virginia Attorney General’s Office News Release, 11/4/15.

E&E News, “Clean Power Plan Hub – Legal Challenges and Documents,” online at http://www.eenews.net/interactive/clean_power_plan/fact_sheets/legal, accessed 11/9/15.

For more information on the Clean Power Plan
E&E News “Clean Power Plan Hub,” online at http://www.eenews.net/interactive/clean_power_plan.

U.S. EPA, “Clean Power Plan for Existing Power Plants,” online at http://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/clean-power-plan-existing-power-plants.

Virginia Water Central News Grouper post, Final Version of “Clean Power Plan” Announced by President Obama and the U.S. EPA on August 3, 2015; Carbon Emissions from Existing Power Plants to be Reduced by 32% Nationwide; States Have Individually Set Reduction Targets, 8/3/15.

Hurricane Creek Coal-waste “Gob” Pile in Russell County, Va., Nearing Clean-up as of August 2016

On August 30, 2016, Dominion Virginia Power reported the approaching finish of a two-year project to clean up a 12-acre, 1-million-ton pile of coal waste—known as a “gob” pile, for “garbage of bituminous”—beside Dumps Creek (a Clinch River tributary) near the Russell County, Va., town of Carbo.  Known as the Hurricane Creek gob pile, the site was used for disposal of gob—coal containing too much rock or dirt to be usable—from a Clinchfield Coal Company mine first opened in 1907.  In announcing the start of the clean-up in 2014, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy called the site the “single worst mine-related impact to water quality in the Clinch River.”  According to Dominion, clean-up of the site became economically feasible after Dominion’s Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center opened in St. Paul, Va. (Wise County), because the facility was able to use about 500,000 tons of the waste for generating electricity.  After removal of the coal waste, the site is to be planted with grass and hardwood trees.  The clean-up project has been managed by Gobco, LLC, of Abingdon, Va.

Sources:
Burning Waste Coal to Restore the Land, Bacon’s Rebellion, 8/30/16.
Dominion Powers Removal of Largest Pollution Source of Clinch River, Dominion Virginia Power News Release, 8/30/16.
Worst Mine Related Impact to Clinch to be Removed in Russell County, Virginia; Hurricane Fork Gob Pile To Be Removed And Burned At Nearby Power Plant, Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy News Release, 12/7/14.

Elkins Branch Landslide Mining Reclamation Project in Buchanan County, Va., Receives $400,000 Grant in June 2016

On June 3, 2016, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) announced that is will receive a $400,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to help stabilize a surface-mining-related landslide in the Elkins Branch area of Buchanan County.  The approximately 15-acre slide area resulting from mining prior to 1977, prior to passage of the federal Surface Mining and Reclamation Act.  This resulted in the area becoming an “abandoned mine land” (AML) area.  DMME states that the total Elkins Branch reclamation project—including the stabilization, removing the displaced slide material (which is partially blocking Elkins Branch), installing erosion and sediment controls, and revegetating the area—is expected to cost about $2 million and will be one of the largest ever undertaken during the 38 years of Virginia’s AML reclamation program.

Sources:
State grant to aid in landslide cleanup, Bristol Herald Courier, 6/5/16.

“Water Quality Improvement Grant to help Stabilize Dangerous Landslide in Buchanan County caused by Historic Coal Mining,” Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy News Release, 6/3/16, online (as PDF) at https://www.dmme.virginia.gov/DMME/pdf/news%20releases/2016Releases/ElkinsBranchGrant20160510.pdf.

“Public Notice of Intent to Enter to Conduct Reclamation Activities (Abandoned Mine Land Program) in the Matter of: Elkins Branch Landslide Project,” Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy Public Notice, 7/16/15, online (as PDF) at https://www.dmme.virginia.gov/DMLR/AML/ElkinsBranch-NoticeofIntent.pdf.

Virginia Tech Plans by 2020 to Replace Coal with Natural Gas for Blacksburg Campus Steam Heat and Electricity Co-generation

Lower natural gas prices and a carbon-emissions-reduction goal were the reasons cited when Virginia Tech announced in mid-June 2016 that it plans by 2020 to stop burning coal for steam heat and electricity at its main campus in Blacksburg, instead burning only natural gas.  Currently the university uses both fuels.  After 2020, coal would continue as a “backup fuel for the foreseeable future,” according to Laura Neff-Henderson of Tech’s University Relations Division.  Ms. Neff-Henderson stated that the conversion to natural gas only is expected to save about $1 million annually from an annual cost currently of between $6 million and $7 million.  The conversion is also part of the university’s efforts to reduce its carbon emissions by 2050 to 80 percent of the levels emitted in 1990, a goal set in a climate action plan that the university approved in 2009 and reaffirmed in 2013 (more information about that plan is available online at http://facilities.vt.edu/sustainability/climate-action-commitment.html).

Source: Virginia Tech plans greater use of natural gas, Roanoke Times, 6/19/16.

Carbon Capture and Storage at Coal-fired Boundary Dam Power Station in Canada Reviewed in Mar. 29, 2016, New York Times Article

Technology to Make Clean Energy From Coal Is Stumbling in Practice,” by Ian Austen in The New York Times, 3/29/16, reports on the progress and setbacks so far of implementing carbon capture and storage at the Boundary Dam Power Station in Saskatchewan, Canada.  Owned by SaskPower, the Boundary Dam station was the first commercial-scale attempt at carbon capture and storage when the station opened in 2014, according to the Times article.

Information from SaskPower on the Boundary Dam carbon capture project is available online at http://www.saskpower.com/our-power-future/innovating-today-to-power-tomorrow/capturing-carbon-and-the-worlds-attention/.