INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A proposed surface coal mine spanning 1,500 acres of southwestern Indiana's coal country would threaten an adjacent national wildlife refuge used by migratory birds with heavy metals and sediments exposed by mining and earth-moving operations, three environmental groups warn.
Evansville-based Vigo Coal Co. is seeking a federal permit under the Clean Water Act to develop the proposed Vigo Sunna Mine in an area about 30 miles northeast of Evansville. Its permit application states that it would remove 18 miles of waterways, 29 acres of open waters and seven acres of wetlands in Pike County to expose the region's underlying coal deposits.
The Sierra Club, Hoosier Environmental Council and Conservation Law Center contend that the company's request is devoid of information about the vegetation, fish, aquatic insects and other wildlife that exists in the habitats it would destroy to reach the area's coal seams.
Without that data, they say the company's proposal to restore the area's habitat following mining, as is required under federal law, rings hollow.
"You have to know what the quality of the resource was, how it's functioning and what's there. You can't just say, 'We're going to impact so many linear feet or so many acres and then we'll restore it,'" said Tim Maloney, the Hoosier Environmental Council's senior policy director.
The groups detailed their opposition to Vigo Coal's permit application in formal comments submitted during a public comment period that ended Wednesday.
The mine's proximity to the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge is of particular concern of the groups. Part of the mine site is only two miles from the refuge, which harbors important nesting, feeding and resting sites for migratory birds.
The groups said that mining activities could allow sediments and heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic found naturally in coal seams to enter two streams that are tributaries of the Patoka River, which flows through part of the wildlife refuge.
"Coal is basically filled with all kinds of toxic materials — it's not just pure carbon," said Jodi Perras, who oversee the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana. "You're digging up mercury and arsenic, selenium, boron, and when you dig that stuff out of the ground and expose it to water, you're polluting the area's waterways."
Unlike underground coal mining, where coal is extracted through tunnels dug into coal deposits, surface mining such as Vigo Coal's proposal involves removing surface vegetation, soils and rock and then blasting or digging out underlying coal, creating deep, valley-like excavations.