APNewsBreak: Ohio groups seek federal coal review

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two Ohio environmental groups will ask federal regulators Monday to investigate circumstances surrounding expired pollution-discharge permits at an agency where allegations of coal-industry influence arose during a personnel flap last year.

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FILE - This Sept. 23, 2006 file photo shows coal production at the underground Sterling South mine near Salineville, Ohio. The Ohio EPA has allowed more than a dozen coal facilities’ discharge permits, including Sterling's, to expire since Republican Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011.(AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Mike Munden, File)

The Sierra Club and Ohio Environmental Council planned to put the request in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A copy of their letter provided to The Associated Press expresses the groups' concern that the Ohio EPA may be reluctant due to political pressure to impose pollution limits adequate to protect Ohio streams.

"Several of the permits have been expired for 6 years or more, with the majority having expired more recently," the letter said.

The AP reported last week that 18 coal facilities' permits have expired, 13 since Republican Gov. John Kasich took office. The letter says a general surface-mining permit also has expired.

The agreements spell out what pollutants each mining operation, coal preparation plant, storm water facility or coal waste storage area can release under state and federal clean water laws.

Ohio EPA spokesman Chris Abbruzzese has told the AP that expired permits are legal, protective and enforceable. A message was left with him Monday seeking comment on the environmental groups' request.

A spokesman for Kasich deferred to the EPA.

Ohio EPA's coal permitting efforts came under scrutiny last year after a 39-year agency veteran claimed Kasich's administration forced him to resign amid pressure from the coal industry.

George Elmaraghy headed Ohio EPA's Division of Surface Water, which issues permits for mining and other activities. He said in a widely publicized email to his staff that coal companies sought permits that he said would have violated state and federal laws and harmed Ohio's streams and wetlands.

He pointed to an objection by the federal EPA that's holding up one of the lapsed permits — for American Energy Corp.'s Century Mine in Belmont County — as validation of his claims. American Energy is owned by Murray Energy, which is among the companies holding expired permits whose employees have contributed generously to Kasich's political campaigns.