The federal Office of Surface Mining has questioned the validity of the Usibelli coal mining permits for the Wishbone Hill mine near Palmer.
In a letter to the state Department of Natural Resources, division of mining, land and water, OSM’s Kenneth Walker states that the federal agency finds “gaps” in permitting information furnished to OSM by the state. OSM has requested that the division of mining, land and water conduct a file review on the Wishbone Hill mining permits and to provide OSM with further information.
This latest development in a lengthy and contentious debate over the Wishbone Hill coal development drew cheers from environmental groups opposed to coal mining. Kirby Spangler is with the Castle Mountain Coalition :
“The Office of Surface Mining has decided that our complaint has merit, and that Usibelli’s permit is not valid. They have no mining permit right now. Now, the letter that OSM sent to the state does give the state ten days to justify the Wishbone Hill mining permit. “
Usibelli has conducted mining exploration activities at Wishbone Hill since 2010. Usibelli spokeswoman Lorali Simon says OSM’s intervention at this time is an example of federal overreach.
“Looking at the Office of Surface Mining, under previous presidential administrations, we weren’t seeing this federal overreach. This particular attempt by the Office of Surface Mining, comes through the Obama administration, and it really is an extension of their continues efforts to shut down any coal related project in the country.”
Simon contends Usibelli’s mining permits date back to 1991 and are valid. Simon also says that the environmental groups opposed to mining were copied on the July 19 letter before Usibelli was notified of it. She says the state has provided statements of the validity of the Usibelli permits to the federal agency before.
“The recent letter from OSM is really just an example of the constantly moving target by these federal regulators. It seems to me that , no matter what evidence the state provides to the federal government over its own coal program, the federal government, led by the Obama administration, is always going to have a problem with it. “
Simon says that OSM is working to stop coal development, citing a West Virginia case that is similar to the Wishbone Hill issue.
Castle Mountain Coalition’s Spangler confirms that the West Virginia complaint helped the anti coal cause.
“..The exact same thing. The operations hadn’t started within the first three years of the permit being issued, and there was no request for an extension, and OSM came back with the same decision in that case. They sided with the citizens who filed the complaint and said the permit is not valid. “
The state has ten days to respond to OSM’s request for further information on the Usibelli coal permit. Simon says Usibelli’s two year exploration permits for Wishbone Hill are set to expire this year, and that activity there will cease for the time being. Environmental lawyers have filed a lawsuit against Usibelli in federal court. That case is pending.