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 Post subject: LC&N: Company wants to follow law, mine coal
PostPosted: Wed Jun 02, 2010 2:59 am 

Joined: Tue Jun 03, 2008 7:12 pm
Posts: 85
Location: Harrisburg, PA (or in the coal fields)
LC&N: Company wants to follow law, mine coal
by peter e. bortner
Published: June 2, 2010

Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co. wants people to know it is not ignoring environmental regulations and state regulators should not have suspended its mining permit, which the company is trying to regain.

"We were at all times willing to work with the (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection)," LC&N Chief Executive Officer Caitlin Curran Hatch said Friday. "We were never trying to get away with anything."

Already in bankruptcy, LC&N's 8,000-acre mining operation in Carbon and Schuylkill counties has been shut since May 24, when DEP suspended its permit for what it said was the Pottsville-based company's unwillingness to operate legally.

DEP alleged LC&N has been engaged in illegal mining operations, violated water quality standards and failed to reclaim mined lands.

"It's put in the most pejorative and misleading way possible," Hatch said of DEP's action.

LC&N on Tuesday appealed DEP's decision to the state Environmental Hearing Board. Bernard A. Labuskes Jr., who recently wrote an opinion affirming all but $100 of a civil penalty imposed by DEP against The Pines at West Penn LLC mobile home park in Dorset, is the presiding judge.

However, Hatch is not optimistic that the situation will be resolved quickly.

"It could take months," she said.

A board spokeswoman said Friday that the case probably will not be heard until next year, unless a request is made to delay the effect of DEP's order.

"It takes a long time before it goes to hearing," she said.

Hatch said DEP's decision has put 114 people out of work for no good reason.

"There's a very skeleton crew overseeing finalization of some business issues. The rest are laid off," Hatch said. "We've got people out of work. They don't know when they're going to go back."

Hatch said DEP's action helps no one.

"There were no active violations," she said. "Why do you shut down a company over what they've already fixed?"

Hatch said the company did not go outside its permit's surface boundaries, but mined too deep in one area in Coaldale while trying to get coal, thereby triggering the DEP's allegation that it mined in an unpermitted and unbonded area.

"We were digging a little too energetically. We got it back into compliance," Hatch said. "We were just trying to stay in business."

The purported water quality violations are things LC&N inherited when it acquired the property from Bethlehem Steel Corp., according to Hatch.

"The water was there. We didn't cause any of that," she said. "This is all about underground mine drainage. We are trying to remediate an environmental situation that was not caused by us."

Manganese, for which DEP requires treatment of the water, is not even really harmful, Hatch said.

"It's in your tap water," she said.

The latest bad water test occurred after a heavy March rain on top of snow from February's huge storm, Hatch said. Nevertheless, DEP insisted on doing a test, which Hatch said was unfair.

"You know you're going to have a bad test," Hatch said. "Why did they do that unless they wanted to use it as a weapon?"

LC&N also is paying on its bond faster than DEP prescribed, she said. The deficit on the bond has fallen to $3.4 million, not $5.1 million as DEP has said.

"We have a schedule with them," and have done better than the prescribed targets, Hatch said.

Hatch does not deny LC&N made mistakes, but she said they were honest errors that it has rectified.

"I'm not saying we were faultless," she said.

However, DEP's action means LC&N cannot sell coal to pay its bills.

"I just think they're trying to pile it on," she said.

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