An environmental law judge has found that Indiana failed to fully assess the impact of coal waste runoff on local waterways when it issued a permit for a southwestern Indiana surface coal mine that's the largest such mine east of the Mississippi River.
The Sierra Club in 2010 challenged Indiana's general permit for Peabody Energy's Bear Run coal mine, arguing that the state should have approved an individual permit for the Sullivan County mine. Such a permit would have required mine owner Peabody Energy to thoroughly study the mine's wastewater discharges and analyze waterways near the mine.
In a ruling issued Sept. 11, the state agency judge ruled against the Sierra Club on that argument, finding it "failed to present sufficient evidence" justifying an individual permit, and sided with the state on the groups' other claims.
But the judge found that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management failed to perform a required "antidegradation" analysis to ensure mine wastes won't harm local waterways and ruled that study must be conducted.
Jodi Perras, who oversees the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana, said the ruling recognizes that IDEM 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," Perras said in a prepared statement.
IDEM said in a statement that it is pleased with the judge's ruling on the challenge to its general permit for the Bear Run coal mine, which opened in 2010 and produces between 8 million to 12 million tons of coal annually.
The agency said the ruling does not invalidate Indiana's general permit for the mine, but instead found that the additional analysis of the local waterways around the mine must be performed.
IDEM noted in its statement that the judge's ruling in favor of the IDEM on five of the environmental groups' six claims included the finding that the Sierra Club failed to present sufficient evidence to show that the discharges from the mine "would contribute to violations of water quality standards."
The Sierra Club was joined in its challenge of the mine's permit by the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Hoosier Environmental Council.
Environmentalists call Indiana's general state permits for coal mines inadequate for the nature of mining operations and the potential impact on waters from runoff that contains pollutants such as mercury and arsenic.