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Activists: EPA should end Va.'s water permit power

Wednesday - 3/7/2012, 12:52pm  ET

APPALACHIA, Va. - Activists want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strip Virginia regulators of the power to grant federal Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop removal coal mines.

Virginia mining officials have consistently violated federal law in failing to notify the public when it issues such permits, the Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and Appalachian Mountain Advocates said Wednesday. They say residents are also entitled to public hearings.

Spokesman Michael Abbott said the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy won't comment until it's done reviewing the petition.

An EPA spokeswoman confirmed that the agency has received and is reviewing the groups' petition but also declined further comment.

The state's Division of Mined Land Reclamation is currently charged with administering parts of the Clean Water Act that relate to pollution from surface mine operations.

Last summer, Appalachian Mountain Advocates asked the agency to include it on a list of people and groups that should be informed when such permits are requested. The activists say division officials then told them no such list exists, despite a federal requirement that one be maintained.

"Communities badly affected by mining are being muzzled by sheer negligence," said Glen Besa, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

Matt Helper of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards said Virginia's notification system is "completely inadequate and leaves people in the dark when it comes to mining permits."

Other states, including West Virginia and Kentucky, post basic mine permit information online, he said, and Virginia's system "needs to be brought into the 21st century."

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