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Bear Run Mine

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of CoalSwarm and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.

Bear Run Mine is a proposed coal mine by Peabody Energy. Peabody plans to open the mine in 2012, south of Dugger in Sullivan County, Indiana. Bear Run would be the largest surface mine in the eastern U.S. Production is expected to be 8 to 12 million tons of coal per year. The mine will employ 350 workers. The plant will produce high-BTU, high-sulfur coal for scrubber-equipped generating plants.[1]

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Mine Data

  • Owner:
  • Parent company: Peabody Energy
  • Location: 7255 East CR 600 S, Carlisle, IN 47838
  • GPS coordinates: 38.995173,-87.313929
  • Production: 8 million tons (projected)
  • Type of coal: High-sulfur
  • Mine type: Surface
  • Equipment:
  • Number of employees: 350 (projected)
  • Recoverable Reserves: 8 million tons

Construction begins

In March 2009, Peabody company officials said they had agreements to supply more than 90 million tons of coal, and would start surface mining at Bear Run that year. In August 2010, Peabody Energy began moving its dragline, a piece of equipment that moves earth for surface mining and weighs in at 13 million pounds, from the Farmersburg Mine in Sullivan County to the Bear Run mine. Since the dragline weighs so much, crews will be moving at a pace of less than one-tenth of a mile per hour. Peabody officials say the trip will take roughly 30 days.[2]

In August 2011, Indiana Rail Road officials started work on a $65 million project to expand its Hiawatha Yard near Jasonville, Indiana and build a new rail spur to handle more coal from Bear Run. President Thomas Hoback told the Greene County Daily World that he expected the business for the Indianapolis-based railroad to grow 50 percent in the next five years, with commitments to haul about 70 percent of the coal taken from the Peabody Coal mine. The expansion includes a $17.5 million project to build a new five-mile rail spur into Bear Run Mine.[3]

Regulatory Issues

Indiana's handling of Bear Run's water pollution permit has been criticized by environmentalists and federal regulators who fear the state's granting of a lower level of regulation could lead to harmful pollutants entering the state's waterways.

At issue is whether the state should have required Bear Run to obtain an individual permit, which assumes each mine has its own set of potential pollution issues that should be addressed. Such a permit would have required Bear Run to thoroughly study the mine's wastewater to determine what toxins are present and perform a stringent analysis of nearby waterways; based on that information, the state would have crafted a permit that set limits on how much water pollution the mine could release and required its owner to test regularly for specific toxins identified by state regulators.

Instead, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) only require the mine to follow the rules of a general permit -- the same one that regulates the state's smallest mines.

The federal EPA criticized the IDEM's decision, urging the state in a November 2010 letter to require Bear Run to file for an individual permit, stating three primary concerns:

  • Without the wastewater analysis required by an individual permit, Indiana regulators can't know for sure what pollutants are coming out of Bear Run or how they would affect aquatic life in nearby rivers and streams.
  • A nearby Peabody mine - the Farmersburg Mine - has violated the few rules of its general permit six times since 2005.
  • Bear Run is in an area of Sullivan County where the water is already polluted, according to federal data.

Environmentalists argue the EPA would provide more stringent requirements than the state, which they argue might be why IDEM is reluctant to issue an individual permit. When a state decides to cover a facility or project under existing general permit rules, the EPA can only provide information to IDEM stating why the federal agency thinks a facility should apply for an individual permit. When a state issues an individual permit, however, the EPA can formally object to the terms of that permit and can take over the permitting process and even write the permit rules itself if the state does not resolve the EPA's concerns.

Bruce Jaffee, professor of business economics at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, said the IDEM's treatment of Bear Run can be traced to the administration's desire to create a market for Indiana coal. The Duke Energy Edwardsport Plant is expected to use 1.7 million to 1.9 million tons of Bear Run coal a year. Not accounting for the full extent of pollution from the Bear Run Mine will make the coal cheaper to extract and burn; for example, at the Wildcat Hills Underground Mine near Equality, Illinois, operators estimated that one method for controlling sulfate levels in wastewater would cost more than $10 million -- and that was one of the less expensive technologies

IDEM first granted Bear Run's request to be allowed to operate under general permit rules in 2009. The permit requires Peabody to limit the acidity, iron content and total suspended solids in wastewater flowing from the mine site and to test levels of those pollutants once a month and send the results to IDEM. Yet pollutants often found in mine wastewater -- but not required to be monitored under general permit rules -- include sulfate, selenium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury.

In its letter to IDEM, dated Nov. 19, 2010, the EPA pointed out that waters on the Bear Run site already "do not meet water quality standards" -- likely because companies have been mining in the area since at least the mid-1990s. A list of bodies of water near the mine that federal officials sent along with the letter included nine polluted enough to be listed on a federal roster of waters requiring extra pollution controls.

Beyond conditions of nearby waterways or Peabody's past violations, there is the issue of the sheer size of Bear Run. IDEM has a stated threshold in its own guidelines for when an individual permit is required: a project that "could have significant environmental impact." The idea that what will become the largest coal mine in the eastern U.S. is not a project IDEM thinks "could have a significant impact" is ludicrous, said attorney Jessica Dexter of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. The group has petitioned the EPA to take away IDEM's power to hand out water pollution permits, citing the failure to issue Bear Run an individual permit as evidence that state regulators are not doing their job.[4]

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References

  1. "Coal Mines Making a Comeback," iStockAnalyst, March 30, 2009.
  2. Evan Shields, "S. Ind mine to be largest in eastern US" Indy Star, August 16, 2010.
  3. "Railroad set for SW Indiana expansion project" chron.com, August 26, 2011.
  4. Heather Gillers, "Is Bear Run coal mine putting Hoosiers at risk?" Indystar.com, January 8, 2012.