US Agency seeks to reduce runoff from mines

The US environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing new effluent guidelines to reclaim abandoned mine sites by encouraging re-mining, and to increase protection of the environment around mines in the western and Appalachian states.

Encouraging re-mining can provide the benefits of improving water quality, removing hazardous conditions and utilising the remaining coal as a resource instead of mining new land, said the EPA.

The Agency said the guidelines for these sites will provide incentives for re-mining abandoned sites instead of mining new land, and the guidelines for western alkaline coal mines will allow miners to install control technologies better suited to reclaiming mining lands in arid and semi-arid regions of the country. Acid mine drainage from abandoned coal mines poses significant water quality problems in the Appalachian states, officials said.

Abandoned mines often contain large quantities of coal, the EPA explained, and their discharges degrade the environment and pose health and safety risks. One of the most successful means for improving abandoned mine land is for coal mining companies to re-mine abandoned areas and extract the coal reserves that remain. Many of the problems associated with abandoned mines are addressed during the re-mining operation as the area is reclaimed.

In the arid and semi-arid western regions of the country natural vegetation cover is sparse and rainfall usually occurs with high intensity over a short period of time causing flash floods and sediment transport. Controlling sediment in these areas can be difficult and can accelerate erosion, disturb the water balance and reduce water availability.

The new guidelines will require western coalmine operations to implement practices to mimic natural conditions that existed prior to mining activities. Prior to 1977, reclaiming mined lands was not a federal requirement and coal miners were required to meet effluent standards for both new and existing discharges, according to the EPA.

Because of concerns over potential liabilities and environmental compliance costs, in the past, many operators have focused their efforts on mining new areas and ignoring abandoned mine lands that contain significant coal reserves. With these amendments, the EPA said it is reclassifying discharges from abandoned mine lands to address pre-existing discharges at coal re-mining operations.

Under the new rules, re-mining operations will be required to implement strategies that control pollutant releases and ensure the pollutant discharges during re-mining activities are less than the pollutant levels released from the abandoned site prior to re-mining, officials said.

Upon completion of the operation, the operators will reclaim the land to meet the same standards currently imposed on active mining areas. The amendments will provide operators with greater certainty about environmental requirements for re-mining operations.

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