Red tape to be eased

FOUR US federal agencies are streamlining their procedures to help speed up lengthy permit approval processes for new coal mines that involve mountain top removal.

Staff Reporter

The Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Office of Surface Mining released a memorandum of understanding that offers a joint framework to improve permit application procedures for surface coal mining operations that place dredged or fill material in waters.

Each agency will encourage states, tribes and agency field offices to develop collaborative processes that emphasize early and close inter-agency coordination while maintaining their independent jurisdictional roles.

"We intend to make the permit process more transparent and more understandable," said principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works) John Paul Woodley. "We will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the permitting process."

The framework for the joint procedures preserves the authorities and responsibilities of each agency while encouraging participating offices and agencies to integrate efforts and establish a better coordinated regulatory process to the extent allowed by statute and regulation.

"Our intent is to create a collaborative review process with early, close coordination among the agencies," said Jeffrey D Jarrett, director of the Office of Surface Mining. "We want to improve the timeliness and clarity of the permitting process and to enhance communication among all involved."

The agencies already conduct similar separate reviews, and joint procedures will help them minimize redundancy.

It is hoped the agreement would streamline the permit application process for surface coal mines, including where mountain top removal is planned.

Under the agreement, state regulatory agencies can hold joint public hearings with the Corps of Engineers rather than the separate processes that exist now. This will not only cut red tape, but also facilitate public comment on proposed mining operations.

The joint procedures should also improve collection of environmental resource information, prediction of impacts, and planning for mitigation and reclamation.