TERRE HAUTE —
Environmental groups have scored what they are calling a victory in their efforts to eventually bury coal as a source of electricity.
The Sierra Club, a San Francisco-based environmental organization, issued a news release Wednesday touting a recent decision from an Indiana environmental law judge upholding part of a complaint against Peabody Energy and its Bear Run Mine in Sullivan County.
The group, joined by two other environmental organizations, filed several complaints with the Indiana Office of Environmental Adjudication against the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Peabody.
On Sept. 11, Judge Catherine Gibbs issued a 20-page statement rejecting all but one of those complaints, siding with IDEM and Peabody in five of six cases.
In one case, however, the judge found that Peabody had failed to undertake a water-quality impact study when the company sought a modification to its operating permit. That violated U.S. EPA-established guidelines, she stated. Gibbs also ruled that there was no evidence that the required public participation in the permitting process had taken place.
It is “relatively clear from the rule in effect at the time that this modification was made that [an] … anti-degradation review was necessary,” Gibbs wrote.
The ruling did not invalidate Bear Run’s operating permit, stated Barry Sneed, a spokesman for IDEM in Indianapolis in an email to the Tribune-Star. Peabody will now have the opportunity to show that discharges from the mine will not “degrade” local waters or that such “degradation is necessary for economic or social factors,” Sneed stated, quoting from the judge’s ruling.
Sneed also underscored that Gibbs sided with IDEM and Peabody in the bulk of her ruling. The environmental groups failed, he said, to present sufficient evidence to show that the discharges from the mine “would contribute to violations of water-quality standards,” again quoting from the ruling.
Peabody, a St. Louis-based energy producer, agreed with IDEM that Bear Run retains permission to operate.
The judge’s “ruling reaffirms Bear Run’s general permit as appropriate to the operation, and we will continue to review any additional steps to maintain compliance,” stated Meg Gallagher, a Peabody Energy spokeswoman, reached Wednesday afternoon.
On the other side of the issue, Jodi Perras, Indiana representative of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign, believes the ruling casts doubt on Bear Run’s ability to operate.
“From my standpoint, [Bear Run is] operating without a valid clean water permit,” Perras said in a telephone interview.
“If you’re digging the largest surface mine east of the Mississippi River,” Perras further stated in the Wednesday news release, “Judge Gibbs recognizes that you must protect local waterways for the use of residents and wildlife. It’s time for IDEM to start doing its job and protect the waters of Indiana from coal mine pollution, as the Clean Water Act requires,” she stated.
The Sierra Club was joined in its complaint by the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Hoosier Environmental Council.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.