U.S. Representative Rick Boucher today expressed dissatisfaction with the decision of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it will suspend use of the Nationwide 21 permit for surface mining in the Appalachian region.
"I regret that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended use of the Nationwide Permit 21 in the Appalachian Region. An appropriate balance must be struck between protecting the environment and allowing essential coal mining activities that support economic growth. I am disappointed that this announcement does not achieve that balance, and I urge the Corps to adopt a responsible approach that maintains the Nationwide 21 process.
"I encourage the Corps to use its existing authority to evaluate ways in which a balance can be achieved between responsible mining practices and environmental protections. Last year, I proposed an alternative, which would achieve desired environmental benefits without disrupting the economic benefits generated by the mining industry, and I continue to support that reasonable approach.
"In Southwest Virginia's coal producing region, mining is the cornerstone of our economy. The coal industry creates some of the highest paying jobs in the local economy, and the products and services purchased in the course of mining operations create thousands of additional jobs in support industries," Boucher said.
Last year when the Corps considered eliminating the Nationwide 21 permit, Boucher proposed a new three-tiered permitting system that was developed in close cooperation with state and federal regulatory agencies and Virginia's coal industry. Under Boucher's proposal The Nationwide 21 Permit would be retained for use for smaller projects with "minimal impacts." For mid-sized operations, a new Appalachian Regional Permit would be instituted which would require a higher level of scrutiny but which would stop short of the more rigorous requirements of the Individual Permit process. Operations exceeding the threshold of the Appalachian Regional Permit would be permitted through the Individual Permit Process. The announcement by the Corps effectively requires all new surface mining operations to be permitted through the Individual Permit process.