Murray:Objection is without merit

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Officials with Murray Energy and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency believe a plan to discharge stormwater from the Century Mine into a Belmont County stream is a safe and common practice.

However, federal regulators are not so sure, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency objects to Murray’s plan, claiming that it does not meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

“The U.S. EPA’s objection letter is wholly without merit and will have no environmental benefit whatsoever,” said Gary Broadbent, spokesman for Murray Energy.

Robert Murray, founder and CEO of St. Clairsville-based Murray Energy, has long been an outspoken opponent of what he considers burdensome federal regulations. In this particular case, he seems to have an ally in the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Though the state and federal agencies share names, they are separate bodies with separate areas of jurisdiction.

“We would not have submitted this permit as a draft if we did not think it would ensure protection of the environment,” said Chris Abbruzzese, spokesman for the Ohio EPA. “Now, there are jobs at stake for Belmont County and southeast Ohio.”

Via its American Energy Corp. and The Ohio Valley Coal Co. subsidiaries, respectively, Murray Energy operates the Century Mine near Beallsville and the Powhatan No. 6 mine near Alledonia. In addition to the hundreds of employees who directly work for Murray, Robert Murray believes his coal operations provide “thousands of jobs in southeastern Ohio.”

“We will take every action possible to preserve these jobs, now and in the future, against unjustified regulation by the U.S. EPA,” Broadbent said.

In terms of procedure, Abbruzzese said the Ohio EPA must submit draft permits for projects that fall under regulation of the Clean Water Act to its federal counterparts.

A Nov. 8 letter from the federal organization to the state agency indicates the U.S. EPA does not believe Murray has met the requirements. However, the letter does not highlight specific objections, only stating that federal regulators reserve the right to specify these by Jan. 5.

“This letter does not tell us what they are objecting to,” Abbruzzese said. “We are hoping to find out what the objections are so that they can be addressed.”

Abbruzzese said the permit would allow the Century Mine to discharge “stormwater runoff” into an unnamed Belmont County stream. This stream eventually leads to Piney Creek, which ultimately leads to Captina Creek.

Though he said the stormwater may include “rock and dirt” that could result from normal mining operations, Abbruzzese said this would not be anything similar to coal slurry.

“We look forward to working with the appropriate regulatory agencies to address any supposed environmental concerns,” Broadbent added.

Via the $3.5 billion deal to acquire five Consol Energy mines – including McElroy and Shoemaker in Marshall County – by the end of this year, Murray will join Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources and Cloud Peak Energy as one of the top five coal producers in the nation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.