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Water: Coal

Effluent Guidelines - Coal Mining - Final Rule: Fact Sheet

EPA 821-F-01-018; December 2001

Amendments to Effluent Limitations Guidelines and New Source Performance Standards for the Coal Mining Point Source Category: Final Rule


EPA is amending the wastewater regulations for the Coal Mining Point Source Category (40 CFR Part 434) by adding two new subcategories. EPA is establishing a new subcategory that will address pre-existing discharges at coal remining operations. EPA is also establishing a second new subcategory that will address drainage from coal mining reclamation and other non-process areas in the arid and semi-arid western United States.

Effluent Limitations Guidelines

Effluent limitations guidelines are national regulations that establish restrictions on the discharge of pollutants to surface waters or to publicly owned treatment works by specific categories of industries. The requirements are developed by EPA based on the application of process or treatment technologies to control pollutant discharges. Although the guidelines are developed based upon particular technologies, EPA does not require that dischargers use these technologies. Since 1974, EPA has promulgated effluent limitations guidelines and standards for 51 industrial categories.

Background of the Coal Remining Subcategory

EPA is establishing a new Coal Remining Subcategory to reduce severe and extensive damage resulting from abandoned mine lands. Acid mine drainage from abandoned coal mines is the number one water quality problem in the Appalachian States. It is estimated that there are over 1.1 million acres of abandoned coal mine lands, over 9,000 miles of streams polluted by acid mine drainage, and many miles of dangerous embankments, highwalls, and surface impoundments. Prior to 1977, reclamation of mine lands was not a Federal requirement. Many coal mines were left in an abandoned state and continue to degrade the environment and pose health and safety risks. The acid mine drainage that originates from these abandoned mine lands are considered "pre-existing discharges."

In addition to having severe environmental and safety problems, abandoned mine lands can contain significant quantities of coal. Modern surface mining techniques now provide mining operators with more economical means of "remining" to extract remaining coal reserves. During remining operations, many of the problems associated with abandoned mine lands are mitigated because the operator becomes responsible for reclaiming the abandoned land. Remining has the multiple benefits of improving water quality, removing hazardous conditions, and utilizing remaining coal as a resource instead of mining virgin land.

Prior to these amendments, 40 CFR Part 434 did not distinguish between pre-existing discharges and new discharges from active mining areas. Requiring the treatment of pre-existing discharges to meet existing standards was cost prohibitive, and thus, a disincentive to remining activities. EPA is establishing the Coal Remining Subcategory to address these regulatory disincentives and encourage remining activities to reduce acid mine drainage and improve water quality.

Requirements for the Coal Remining Subcategory

The Coal Remining Subcategory will only cover discharges resulting from previous mining activities on mine land that have been abandoned (termed a "pre-existing" discharge). A coal remining operator must develop a site-specific pollution abatement plan designed to reduce the pollution load from pre-existing discharges. The plan must incorporate the design and implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs). EPA is publishing a guidance manual which describes abandoned mine land conditions and the performance BMPs that have been successfully implemented on remining operations. EPA is also requiring that the operator ensure that the levels of iron, manganese, and pH in pre-existing discharges are not made any worse from remining activities. EPA has established a statistical procedure that is to be used for monitoring pollutant loadings.

Costs and Benefits of the Coal Remining Subcategory

EPA projects that the annual compliance cost for this new subcategory will be $0.33 million to $0.76 million. EPA projects total monetized annual benefits of $0.70 to $1.2 million. Additionally, EPA expects that this regulation will significantly increase the rate at which abandoned mine lands are reclaimed, resulting in numerous non-water quality benefits that cannot be monetized.

Background of the Western Alkaline Coal Mining Subcategory

EPA is establishing a new Western Alkaline Coal Mining Subcategory to encourage the use of BMPs to control erosion and sediment from reclamation and other non-process areas in the arid and semi-arid regions of the western United States. Although the existing regulations establish effluent limitations for reclamation areas, the current guidelines require all reclamation areas throughout the U.S., regardless of climate, topography, or type of mine drainage (i.e., acid or alkaline), to meet the same discharge limits.

EPA has concluded that there are unique environmental conditions in the arid west which are much different than those in other coal mining areas. In arid regions, the natural vegetative cover is sparse and rainfall is commonly received during localized, high-intensity, short-duration storms. These conditions contribute to flash-floods and turbulent flows that transport large amounts of sediment. Current regulations basically require the construction of large sediment ponds to control sediment. The construction of large sediment ponds to contain all runoff from areas that naturally contain large amounts of sediment can be difficult and can result in non-water quality impacts that harm the environment, including disturbing the natural hydrologic balance, reducing groundwater recharge, reducing water availability, and impacting large areas of land for pond construction. To address these impacts, EPA is establishing a new subcategory that requires coal mine operators to implement BMPs so that post-mined lands are reclaimed to mimic natural conditions that were present prior to mining activities.

Requirements for the Western Alkaline Coal Mining Subcategory

The Western Alkaline Coal Mining Subcategory will cover alkaline mine drainage from reclamation areas and certain non-process areas in the arid and semiarid west. This subcategory will not affect existing limitations for active mine wastewater. A coal mining operator must design and implement BMPs to maintain the average annual sediment yield equal to or below pre-mined, undisturbed conditions. This would ensure that natural conditions are maintained, and would not allow a coal mining operator to increase the discharge of sediment over natural conditions. To achieve these results, EPA would require that the operator develop a site-specific sediment control plan using established watershed modeling techniques.

Costs and Benefits of the Western Alkaline Coal Mining Subcategory

EPA estimates that this regulation will result in a net cost savings to all affected surface mine operators, and will be at worst cost-neutral to affected underground operators (although EPA believes that most will also incur cost savings). EPA projects that the proposed subcategory will result in annualized monetized benefits of $40,000 to $750,000.

Additional Information

For additional information concerning this rule, contact the program manager for coal mining.

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