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Environmentalists Peabody permit rejected

Rick Callahan, Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Two environmental groups have asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject a permit Peabody Energy Corp. needs to expand one of its Indiana coal mines, arguing that the company hasn't fully assessed the project's environmental impacts.

The Sierra Club and Hoosier Environmental Council said in objections filed Monday with the Army Corps during a public comment period on Peabody Energy's permit request that the company's planned expansion of its Somerville mine would destroy local streams and worsen water pollution in southwestern Indiana with coal waste runoff.

Peabody needs a federal permit under the Clean Water Act so that it can fill in nearly 16 miles of local streams as well as wetlands to open up more than 1,700 acres in Gibson County for surface mining, where surface vegetation, soils and rock are removed and underlying coal is dug or blasted away.

The two environmental groups contend that St. Louis-based Peabody has failed in its permit request to provide information on aquatic wildlife, such as frogs, snakes and fish, living in the streams it wants to fill in and hasn't assessed how those waterways function in the local environment.

Without those and other details, the groups said Peabody cannot properly restore the area's habitat following mining, as is required under federal law. Peabody has proposed replacing the streams it will fill in with new man-made channels and taking other mitigation steps.

"The near total failure to provide any study of the existing groundwater resources at the site — including how those resources interact with surface streams — makes it all but impossible for the Army Corps to predict how recreated surface streams would function," Kim Ferraro, the Hoosier Environmental Council's staff attorney, said in a statement.

Bowden Quinn, conservation director for the Sierra Club's Hoosier Chapter, said Peabody's proposal to remove streams in the proposed mining site would inflict "irreversible harm" on local waterways and increase downstream water pollution as coal waste that can include heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic washes downstream.

Peabody Energy spokeswoman Meg Gallagher said in a statement that the company looks forward to "to an efficient and timely review" of its permit request to expand the Somerville mine.

"The mine has an excellent record of environmental compliance, and the permit ensures continued environmental quality standards are met," Gallagher said in a statement.

The Army Corps of Engineers could take several months before it reaches a decision on Peabody Energy's permit request, said Mike Ricketts, chief of the west regulatory branch for the Corps' Louisville district.

The deadline for public comments on Peabody's permit request had been Oct. 28, but the Sierra Club requested and received a two-week extension from the Corps because of the partial federal government shutdown, said Shane Levy, a Sierra Club spokesman. Monday was the revised deadline.