Two West Virginia University faculty members will head to Washington to contribute their expertise to a board that will help determine the future of mountaintop mining, a process that produces about 40 percent of West Virginia’s coal.

Kyle Hartman and Todd Petty will participate in a meeting of a U.S. Environmental Protection Science Advisory Board, which was established to comment on the practice of mountaintop mining and its effect on water resources.

Hartman and Petty are the only members from West Virginia on the 19-member panel. Dr. Hartman is professor and coordinator of wildlife and fisheries resources in WVU’s Division of Forestry and Natural Resources in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. Dr. Petty is an associate professor in the same program.

Recent published scientific information reveals that mountaintop mining and valley-fill operations in Southern Appalachia may be linked to degraded water quality and adverse impacts on in-stream biota. Discharges from surface coal mining operations are regulated under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act, which provides authority to regulate discharges of pollutants to streams from valley-fills and associated operations; Section 404 also provides authority to regulate construction of the valley-fill itself to the extent rock and dirt are placed in waters of the United States, including streams and wetlands.

EPA’s Region 3 Office has requested EPA’s Office of Research and Development to prepare a scientific assessment of the ecological impacts related to mountaintop mining and valley-fill operations.

Hartman was appointed to the board because of his involvement in the original Environmental Impact Statement that was finalized by the EPA in 2005. Also, Hartman’s lab has published one of only five peer-reviewed articles on the effects of mountaintop mining on stream ecosystems.

Hartman’s study entitled, “How much do valley fills influence headwater streams?” was published in the international journal Hydrobiologia in 2005. It compared water quality and aquatic macroinvertebrate communities in streams draining mountain top mining valley fills and nearby streams that did not have fills.

“The study found valley fill streams had significantly higher specific conductivity and metals than non fill streams,” Hartman said. “The aquatic macroinvertebrate communities (which form the base of aquatic food webs) were significantly altered below valley fills with reduced densities of key aquatic insect taxa and functional groups.”

Petty was appointed to the board due to his lab’s recent research on mountaintop mining in southern West Virginia. Most notable was a master’s thesis by WVU graduate student Eric Merriam titled, “Additive effects of mining and residential development on stream ecosystem condition in an intensively mined Appalachian watershed.” Merriam’s thesis has been submitted to the Journal of the North American Benthological Society for publication.

In addition, through collaborations with Mike Strager of Davis College’s Division of Resource Management and Paul Ziemkiewicz of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, Petty’s lab has built and published several modeling tools designed to support mine permitting decisions. Most notable is an article that is currently in press in the Journal of the North American Benthological Society titled, “Landscape indicators and thresholds of stream ecosystem impairment in an intensively mined Appalachian watershed.”

“The models we have developed enable decision makers to assess the potential effects of a particular mine permit application on downstream water quality and fisheries condition,” Petty said. This technology was developed under a USEPA STAR (Science to Achieve Results) grant to Petty and Ziemkiewicz for application to acid mine drainage impacted watersheds in northern West Virginia.

“We have now extended this technology to the major watersheds of southern WV, including the Coal River, Guyandotte River, Tug Fork and Gauley River,” Petty added.

The Mountaintop Mining Science Advisory Board will meet next week in Washington, DC from July 20-22. Outcomes from this meeting will have important consequences for the future of mountaintop mining in West Virginia and how aquatic and fisheries resources in mined watersheds are managed.

Information on the SAB can be found at:



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