Pennsylvania Denies Company's Request to Resume Washington County Mining
Dec. 1Citing the threat of immediate environmental harm, the state Environmental Hearing Board has denied a mining company's request to resume longwall mining under a tributary of Maple Creek in Washington County.
The board opinion issued by Administrative Law Judge Bernard A. Labuskes Jr. yesterday denies UMCO/Maple Creek Mining Inc. the opportunity to move the High Quality Mine's longwall mining operation under the springs and tributary that was recently reclassified a perennial stream.
Robert E. Murray, the mine's owner, shut it down Nov. 12 and idled almost 500 employees shortly after receiving the state Department of Environmental Protection's decision to allow only room and pillar mining, which minimizes subsidence, under the springs and tributary.
Michael Gardner, a spokesman for Murray, said the mine remains closed and there are no plans to reopen it.
"We're very disappointed with the judge's decision," Gardner said. "We are currently reviewing all of our options."
Murray's attorneys are reviewing the board's ruling to determine if an appeal will be filed. Gardner said an appeal is probable.
Ed Begovich, a district board member of the United Mineworkers of America, said the future of the mine is "in limbo."
"We don't know what the mining company will decide to do as a result of this decision," Begovich said. "We feel it will affect every one of the longwall mining operations in the state and will put Pennsylvania's coal producers at a competitive disadvantage."
Labuskes' opinion supports the DEP's authority to protect a perennial stream by refusing to approve a mining plan that would cause "extensive" and "long-lived" damage to it, even if the company promises to mitigate the subsidence damages the mining causes.
"The nearly complete elimination of springs, seeps, wetlands and a stream does not preserve the stream's value or protect its reasonably foreseeable uses, whatever they may be," Labuskes wrote in his 29-page opinion.
George Jugovic Jr., attorney for Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, which intervened in the appeal on the DEP's side, said the company was unable to prove it could mine without damaging the water flows.
"We worked to ensure enforcement of the law," Jugovic said. "UMCO must obey the law, just as other mining companies are already doing. They have every right to remove the coal under the stream. They just can't damage the stream in the process."
Murray testified at the board hearing in Pittsburgh that he would be unable to meet contractual commitments to supply 12,000 tons of coal a day from the High Quality Mine if he was not allowed to use longwall mining methods.
Longwall mining would remove all the coal from the 7-foot-thick Pittsburgh coal seam, just 215 feet below the tributary. It would cause immediate surface subsidence that would fracture underlying rock strata and likely cause the springs and creek to dry up.
The state's Clean Streams Law requires that the flows of perennial and intermittent streams be protected.
The DEP declined comment on the hearing board's decision.
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© 2004, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.