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Water: Wetlands

Memoranda of Understanding

AMONG THE U.S. OFFICE OF SURFACE MINING, U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY,   U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS, U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, AND WEST VIRGINIA   DIVISION OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION  FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING EFFECTIVE COORDINATION   IN THE EVALUATION OF SURFACE COAL MINING OPERATIONS RESULTING IN PLACEMENT OF   EXCESS SPOIL FILLS IN THE WATERS OF THE UNITED STATES

     
  1. INTRODUCTION
         

    This Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)1 establishes a process         for improving coordination among the U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM),         U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers         (COE), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and West Virginia Division         of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), in the review of permit applications         required for surface coal mining and reclamation operations resulting         in the placement of excess spoil fills in the waters of the United States         (hereinafter SCM/VF)2.  The signatory agencies have entered         into this agreement with the goals of enhancing cooperation and communication         in order to ensure compliance with all applicable Federal and State laws,         improving timelines and predictability in the permit process, and minimizing         adverse environmental impacts from SCM/VF.

         

    The interagency coordination process outlined in this agreement is intended         to facilitate permit decisions related to SCM/VF, including (1) permits         required for surface coal mining and reclamation under the Surface Mining         Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) and the applicable delegated State         program, (2) permits required for discharges of pollutants into waters         of the United States, or waters of the State under Section 402 of the         Clean Water Act (CWA) (i.e., the approved State National Pollutant Discharge         Elimination System (NPDES) program), (3) permits required for discharges         of fill material to waters of the United States under CWA Section 404,         (4) State water quality certification provisions of CWA Section 401 and,         (5) applicable provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the         Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (FWCA).          

         
         
           
     1This MOU is being developed pursuant to           the terms of the settlement agreement in Bragg, et. al., v. Robertson,           et. al., Civ. No. 2:98-0636 (S.D.W.Va.), until permanent procedures           are established among the agencies following completion of a comprehensive           Environmental Impact Statement.                    

    2As used in this MOU, "surface coal mining             operation” is defined in the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation             Act of 1977 (SMCRA), Section 701(28).  The phrase "surface coal             mining operations resulting in the placement of excess spoil fills             in the waters of the United States” is intended to apply generally             to any mountaintop mines which are returned to their approximate original             contour (AOC)[SMCRA Section 515]; mountaintop removal mining [see             definitions and performance standards at 30CFR785.14(b) and 824];             contour mining operations returned to AOC [SMCRA Section 515]; contour             mines with a variance from AOC [Section 515(e)]; and, any surface             impacts incident to underground mining resulting in underground development             waste [SMCRA Section 516].  Further, as used in this MOU, the terms             "resulting in the placement of excess spoil fills” only             applies to disposal of excess spoil or underground development waste             in valley, head-of-hollow, or durable rock fills (see definitions             and performance standards in 30 CFR 701.5 and 816/817.71-73).”              These three types of excess spoil disposal and underground development             waste fills occur, by regulatory definition, on "steep slopes.”             [SMCRA Section 515(d)(4)]

           
         
         
  2. SCOPE AND APPLICABILITY      
    1. The coordination process outlined in this agreement is               applicable to the evaluation of SMCRA and CWA permits for SCM/VF               within the State of West Virginia.  Discharges of excess spoil fill               in waters of the United States resulting in minimal adverse environmental               impacts are eligible for authorization under a CWA Section 404 General               permit; discharges causing more than minimal adverse environmental               impacts are subject to CWA Section 404 individual permit review.                The determination as to whether a particular project will result               in more than minimal adverse effects will be based on the relevant               factual circumstances of each project.  As a general matter, any               mining operation in the State that proposes to discharge fill material               in waters of the United States draining a watershed of 250 acres               or more (measured from the toe of the fill) would be considered               to have more than minimal adverse environmental effects and, therefore,               would be subject to an individual CWA Section 404 permit.  In specific               circumstances after evaluation of the facts associated with a particular               proposed mining operation, the COE may determine that a General               permit authorization is appropriate for valley fills exceeding the               250 acre threshold if associated adverse environmental impacts are               minimal.  In the determination of whether or not an individual CWA               Section 404 permit will be required, the COE and EPA, in coordination               with the other signatory agencies, will also specifically evaluate               the number of watersheds to be affected by proposed valley fill               discharges to assess potential cumulative impacts to waters of the               United States.  In addition, if the COE determines that a discharge               of fill material to waters of the United States draining a watershed               of 250 acres or less would cause more than minimal adverse environmental               effects (e.g., to endangered or threatened species or Federal trust               resources under the FWCA), the COE will require review of such discharges               under the CWA Section 404 individual permit process.

                   

      The evaluation of such individual permits will be subject               to the interagency coordination process described below so that               permit review under CWA Section 402 and 404, and SMCRA can proceed               concurrently.  Surface coal mining operations whose associated excess               spoil fills in waters of the U.S. are determined to have minimal               individual and cumulative adverse effects are subject to authorization               under a CWA General permit issued by the COE.  Discharges in waters               of the U.S. associated with a SCM/VF approved by a COE General permit               are contingent upon a final WVSMCRA permit and certification by               the State under CWA Section 401. Therefore, the COE General permit               authorization will follow applicable final permit decisions made               pursuant to WVSMCRA, and State 401 water quality certification.

    2. The provisions of this agreement cover surface coal mining               operations resulting in the placement of excess spoil fills in waters               of the United States requiring applicable permits under WVSMCRA               and CWA Section 404.  This agreement does not apply to the review               of surface mining operations in steep slopes where no Section 404               permit is required, or where the only Section 404 discharges are               related to berms or dikes associated with the construction of sediment               ponds, or road crossings, or stream diversion activities. In addition,               this agreement does not apply to coal mining operations where the               only proposed discharge in waters of the U.S. is coal processing               waste.

    3. Consistent with existing regulations, guidance and policies,               WVDEP is responsible for the review of applications for and authorization               of permits to engage in surface mining and reclamation activities               pursuant to WVSMCRA.  In order to ensure the most effective coordination               among State and Federal agencies under this MOU, OSM will provide               technical assistance to WVDEP for such permit applications that               are subject to this MOU.

                   

      WVDEP also has the responsibility to review applications and                 to authorize permits for discharges of pollutants into waters                 of the United States under NPDES (i.e. CWA Section 402), including                 pollutants discharged from surface mining operations.  Consistent                 with existing regulations, guidance, and policies, EPA currently                 coordinates with WVDEP in the review of such permit applications                 and the procedures of this MOU are intended to build upon that                 existing coordination. 

                   

      The COE has the responsibility to review applications, and to                 make the decision whether to authorize permits for discharges                 of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States (i.e.,                 CWA Section 404), including discharges of excess spoil material                 (i.e. valley fills) associated with surface coal mining operations.                  EPA shares responsibility under CWA Section 404, among other authorities,                 to promulgate environmental standards under Section 404(b)(1),                 and to coordinate with the COE in the review of Section 404 permit                 applications.  This MOU also builds upon these existing coordination                 provisions as the basis for improving cooperation among the signatory                 agencies. 

                   

      Consistent with the statutory requirements of the Endangered                 Species Act (ESA) and the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (FWCA),                 the Federal agencies are responsible for coordinating with FWS                 in the review of Federal permits that may affect threatened or                 endangered species, or other Federal trust resources.  The FWCA                 requires that consultation on the impacts of Federally approved                 water-related projects (including, for example, mining activities                 affecting waters of the U.S.), must provide that wildlife conservation                 receive equal consideration and is coordinated with other project                 development features.  Under the ESA, the Federal agencies shall                 consult with FWS to ensure that any action authorized by such                 agency is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of                 any threatened or endangered species.  This existing role is the                 basis for FWS coordination under the provisions of this MOU. 

                 
    4. This agreement to improve coordination does not alter,               in any way, existing agency responsibilities or authorities established               under Federal or State statutes or regulations. 

       
  3. INTERAGENCY COORDINATION PROCEDURES.
    1. General
            This section outlines the general procedures to be used among the agencies         to improve coordination in the review of permits necessary for SCM/VF.          The goal of this coordination is to take advantage of the combined experience         and expertise of the Federal and State agencies involved in the review         of proposed SCM/VF to ensure more timely, predictable, and environmentally         effective decision making under applicable Federal and State regulations         and policies.  Issues that may arise in the implementation of this section         will be addressed by the signatory agencies at the field level.  These         coordination procedures may not extend or delay deadlines or other permit         review time frames established by statute or regulation, unless such statute         or regulation expressly provides for extensions.
    2. Coordination
                     
      1. Pending (pre-MOU) Permit Decisions
        .  For those               proposed SCM/VF where WVDEP review under WVSMCRA is complete (or               essentially complete) but no Section 404 permit application has               been filed, the COE and EPA, in coordination with the other signatory               agencies and consistent with the Settlement Agreement executed on               December 23, 1998 in Bragg, et al. v. Robertson, et al.,               Civ. No. 2:98-0636 (S.D.W.Va.), will work with permit applicants               to reduce impacts to waters of the United States to the maximum               extent practicable.   Where this coordination results in proposed               fills that affect watersheds below the 250 acre threshold  and associated               individual and cumulative environmental impacts are minimal, the               COE will proceed to authorize such fills by General permit and WVDEP               will make any necessary conforming modifications to applicable NPDES               and WVSMCRA permits, and certification under CWA Section 401.  The               COE, in coordination with EPA and the other signatory agencies,               in determining whether or not a proposed discharge will be consistent               with requirements of the CWA and agency regulations, will generally               require a compensatory mitigation plan be approved to offset anticipated               environmental impacts to waters of the United States and make such               compensatory mitigation plan a condition of the Section 404 authorization,               including authorizations under General permits.               

        In circumstances where the COE determines that discharges of                 excess spoil to waters of the United States associated with a                 proposed surface coal mining operation would have greater than                 minimal adverse environmental impacts (e.g., valley fills which,                 as a general matter, exceed the 250 acre threshold), the COE will                 coordinate with the signatory agencies to review such discharges                 under the COE's individual permit regulations, including                 the COE's Public Interest Review and EPA's Section                 404(b)(1) Guidelines.  The COE also is responsible for conducting                 the appropriate review (33CFR325 Appendix B) of the potential                 environmental impacts under the National Environmental Policy                 Act (NEPA), resulting in either an environmental assessment which                 supports a finding of "no significant impact” (FONSI)                 or an environmental impact statement if the proposed permit will                 be a major Federal action having a significant impact on the environment.                  The COE will complete any individual permit review in a timely                 manner consistent with all applicable requirements of existing                 regulations and policies and will advise the permit applicant                 and regulatory agencies of the final permit decision. 

      2. Coordinated Review of Permit Applications.
           Within 30               days of the effective date of this agreement, WVDEP will modify               its existing agency notification procedures to provide for effective               notice to the Federal signatory agencies of permit applications               proposing to conduct a SCM/VF.  Initial notification to the Federal               agencies will be  accomplished through the use of forms sent by               WVDEP within ten days of receipt by WVDEP of a new surface coal               mining permit application.  This notification will facilitate early               coordination among the agencies consistent with the terms and objectives               of this MOU.  The forms will identify information included in the               permit application regarding the proposed coal mine including: 
                                     
        1. Permit Applicant 
                        2. General location and size of the proposed mine 
                        3. Location and extent of watersheds affected by excess spoil                 disposal 
                        4. Potential threatened and endangered species habitat 
                        5. Potential wetlands or other special aquatic site impacts 
                        6. Proposed Compensatory Mitigation Plan 
                         
                      Following notification by WVDEP, the Federal signatory agencies               may request copies of the mine drainage plan or other relevant portions               of the permit application.  This notification procedure will not               affect existing coordination provisions between EPA and WVDEP under               the State's NPDES Program.               

        If all valley fills proposed in the application would affect                 watersheds draining less than 250 acres, the COE3 will                 advise the permit applicant that proposed discharges may be eligible                 for authorization under a General permit, typically Nationwide                 Permit 21 (NWP 21), and that the applicant is required to notify                 the COE consistent with their notification procedures (33CFR330.1(e)                 and NWP General Condition 13).  NWP 21 is applicable to discharges                 in waters of the United States associated with surface coal mining                 activities that have been authorized by the approved SMCRA program                 and where such discharges will have only minimal adverse environmental                 impacts (see 33CFR Part 330 for more information about the NWP                 Program).  Because NWP 21 may only approve discharges associated                 with proposed surface coal mining operations that have been authorized                 under SMCRA, applicants should be advised to submit their notification                 to the COE at the time WVDEP has made its final permit decision                 under WVSMCRA. 

                     

        Once the COE has received a completed notification4,                 including a State approved compensatory mitigation plan, the Preconstruction                 Notification (PCN) will be submitted to the signatory agencies                 for review.  The agencies will use the PCN5  process                 to provide comments on proposed valley fills and recommend to                 the COE whether or not such discharges in waters of the U.S. should                 be authorized under CWA Section 404 by a General permit.  Review                 by the signatory agencies of the PCN should specifically consider                 the nature and scope of anticipated adverse environmental impacts                 to waters of the U.S., including potential cumulative impacts,                 potential effects to threatened or endangered species, and the                 adequacy of the proposed compensatory mitigation plan to offset                 anticipated environmental impacts. The COE is responsible for                 fully considering agency comments in making a final permit decision,                 including the determination of whether the proposed valley fills                 will be authorized by General permit or to use its discretionary                 authority to require an individual permit.  The applicant will                 be notified by the COE of their permit decision within 30 days                 after receipt of a completed PCN. 

                     

        In circumstances where a proposed SCM/VF project will include                 one or more excess spoil disposal sites in waters of the United                 States draining a watershed of 250 acres or greater, the applicant                 will be advised by the COE as soon as possible to submit an application                 for an individual Section 404 permit so that permit reviews under                 WVSMCRA and the CWA may proceed simultaneously.6  Initial                 coordination among the agencies and the applicant will focus on                 ensuring that sufficient information is provided to complete necessary                 permit applications so that project review may proceed in a timely                 manner. 

                     

         If, during the review of the individual permit application the                 Corps determines, in coordination with the other signatory agencies,                 that a particular SCM/VF proposal that exceeds the 250 acre threshold                 may be eligible for General permit authorization, the COE will                 so advise the applicant in an expeditious manner.  The agencies                 will closely coordinate in making this determination to ensure,                 to the maximum practicable extent, that issues are raised and                 fully resolved prior to advising the applicant that the individual                 permit application may be withdrawn and that processing under                 a General permit may proceed. 

                     

        The signatory agencies will coordinate their review of the proposed                 SCM/VF consistent with existing regulations, policies, and guidance                 to ensure the following goals are achieved to the maximum practicable                 extent: 
                         

                                     
        1. The schedule for permit review will combine or coordinate                 public notices and public hearings wherever appropriate.                 

        2. Agency experience and expertise will be shared to increase                   predictability in the permit process, reduce delays, and ensure                   that environmental impacts are fully avoided, minimized, and                   mitigated to the maximum practicable extent. 

                       

        3. Interagency review will focus on applying existing provisions                   of the CWA and SMCRA to approve surface coal mining operations                   that maximize the amount of  spoil that is placed back on the                   mined area and minimizes the excess spoil to be discharged into                   waters of the United States. 

                       

        4. The signatory agencies agree to exercise their best efforts                   to resolve issues or concerns raised by any of the agencies                   regarding the issuance of pending permits, including meetings,                   conference calls, site visits, and other informal opportunities                   to address concerns in a timely manner. 

                       

        5. Interagency coordination will seek to ensure that permit                   decisions under SMCRA and CWA are consistent, complementary,                   and made in the same general time frames to the maximum practicable                   extent. 
                           

                     
                      The agencies may agree to develop additional specific time frames               and protocols, as necessary, to further the objectives of this MOU. 
           
                 
             
      3The COE may require additional information from           the permit applicant regarding the proposed discharges to waters of           the U.S.
           
           
             
      4COE regulations require that a NWP permit decision           be made within 30 days of receipt of a completed PCN.          

      5COE NWP Condition 13 (Notification) provides commenting             agencies 5 calendar days from receipt of the PCN to submit their comments             to the Corps District Office.

               

      6If at any time during the permit review process valley             fill impacts are reduced to a minimal effect, and discharges are consistent             with approval under a general permit, the applicant may withdraw the             individual permit application and submit a Preconstruction Notification             for general permit authorization of the fills.

             
           
           
    3. GENERAL
               
      1. The policy and procedures contained within this MOU are intended         solely as guidance and do not create any rights, either substantive or         procedural, enforceable by any party.  This document does not, and is         not intended to, impose any legally binding requirements on Federal agencies,         States, or the regulated public, and does not restrict the authority of         the employees of the signatory agencies to exercise their discretion in         each case to make regulatory decisions based on their judgement about         the specific facts and application of relevant statutes and regulations.
      2. Nothing in this MOU is intended to diminish, modify, or otherwise         affect statutory or regulatory authorities of any of the signatory agencies.          All formal guidance interpreting this MOU and background materials upon         which this MOU is based will be issued jointly by the agencies.
      3. Nothing in this MOU will be construed as indicating a financial           commitment by OSM, the COE, EPA, FWS, or WVDEP for the expenditure of           funds except as authorized in specific appropriations.
      4. This MOU will take effect on the date of the last signature below           and will continue in effect until permanent procedures are established           following completion of the interagency EIS, or unless earlier modified           or revoked by agreement of all signatory agencies. Modifications to           this MOU may be made by mutual agreement of all the signatory agencies.            Modifications to the MOU must be made in writing.
      5.                                                                                                        
        W. Michael  McCabe  /s/
                    Regional Administrator 
                    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
        Allen D. Klein  /s/
                    Regional Director, OSM 
                    U.S. Department of the Interior 
        Hans A.VanWinkle  /s/
                    Brigadier General, U.S. Army 
                    Division Engineer
        Ronald E. Lambertson  /s/
                    Regional Director, FWS 
                    U.S. Department of the Interior 
        Michael Miano  /s/
                    Director 
                    West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection 
                    DATE: April 7, 1999

 


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