Indiana coal mines have until November 26, 2010 to submit comments to IDEM’s recently revised Development of New Rules and Amendments to Rules Concerning NPDES General Permits. (LSA Doc. #10-659.) The new rules and amendments seem innocuous at first blush; they claim to bring IDEM’s procedures for issuing NPDES general permits by rule into compliance with federal law by transferring the authority to write general permits from the Water Pollution Control Board to the Commissioner, by adding expiration dates to general permits, and by adding public review procedures (not yet defined) to the existing NPDES permitting process. But, companies engaged in coal mining, processing, and reclamation activities need only be reminded of the Petition for Corrective Action filed last year to appreciate the seriousness of this rule making.

On December 17, 2009, the Hoosier Environmental Council, Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center filed a Petition for Corrective Action with U.S. EPA demanding that EPA correct IDEM’s practice of issuing general permits by rule (based on their view of the law) or simply revoke IDEM’s NDPES permitting authority. The environmental groups charged that coal mining was not suitable for general permits because of differences in wastewater composition based upon the type of mining done and the sensitivity of receiving waters, that IDEM’s permitting process did not allow EPA and environmental groups sufficient opportunity for public participation, and that discharges from mines violated state water quality standards and federal antidegradation policy.

On January 29, 2010, EPA Region 5 submitted comments to IDEM’s draft antidegradation rules echoing some of these same concerns. EPA Region 5 recommended that antidegradation review occur for each and every general permit as issued and reissued by IDEM, and that Indiana prove that the issuance of general permits by rule provide important social and economic benefits under federal antidegradation policy.

Indiana has 57 billion tons of coal reserves, of which 17 billion tons are recoverable using current technologies. The 17 billion tons alone are enough to provide energy for more than 500 years. This also does not include the potential geothermal power that could be harnessed in the future from abandoned mines. (http://www.physorg.com/news183882914.html.) Now is the time to get involved in IDEM’s important rule making on NPDES general permits.