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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

DEP Suspends Mining Permit for Lehigh Coal and Navigation

DEP Suspends Mining Permit for Lehigh Coal and Navigation
Company Cited for Failure to Conduct Reclamation, Address Water Quality

HARRISBURG -- Persistent illegal mining practices, repeated water quality violations, and an ongoing failure to reclaim mined lands, which is required to protect the public from unsafe mining sites, have prompted the Department of Environmental Protection to suspend Lehigh Coal and Navigation’s mining activities in Carbon and Schuylkill counties.

Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger said the decision halts all mining activities and coal sales from the company’s sprawling operations that encompass parts of Coaldale, Tamaqua, Nesquehoning and Summit Hill.

“The current Lehigh Coal and Navigation management has shown a persistent unwillingness and inability to mine in accordance with state and federal law or address the reclamation and water treatment needs of this mine site,” Hanger said. “The department does not take this type of action lightly, but we cannot allow LC&N to continue to ignore the law and leave the bill for cleanup of this site to the taxpayers.”

Hanger added that the permit suspension will remain in effect until the entire 8,000-acre site is brought into full compliance with conditions in the mining permit.

The site has been mined almost continually since the 1700s, long before passage of modern mining laws that require companies to post bonds to cover the cost of reclaiming a site if the mine operator is unable or unwilling to complete reclamation.

As a result, much of the site does not have sufficient reclamation bond. Also, a large mine discharge from abandoned underground workings impacts water quality in the Little Schuylkill River.

DEP has attempted to work with the current owner to continue mining while reclaiming the site and treating the discharge, however, the company has repeatedly failed to meet its obligations or maintain negotiated agreements.

DEP has issued 24 compliance orders against LC&N since 2008, resulting in civil penalties of more than $91,000, along with five three-day permit suspensions. The company has been cited twice this year for attempting to develop unpermitted and unbonded mine pits in blatant disregard for state and federal law.

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