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Why Regulators Are 'Scratching Their Heads' Over Northeast Oklahoma Coal Mine

Geoffrey Rhodes / Flickr

A new coal mining operation near Oologah Lake in northeast Oklahoma would disturb 11,000 feet of streambed and drain a pond in the Panther Creek watershed. But that’s not the problem.

The issue is over how to restore the damaged land after mining ends — and that depends on whose rules apply: the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality’s or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’.

As The Journal Record‘s D. Ray Tuttle reports, the owner of Vinita-based Phoenix Coal, Clay Hartley, is happy to comply with the rules — whosever they are:

[Hartley] submitted a plan to rebuild a pond and nearly 11,000 feet of streamed that would be disturbed by the work.

The DEQ, meanwhile, citing Army Corps rules, required Hartley to add an additional 20 percent, or 2,058 feet, of streamed, said Elena Jigoulina, of the DEQ Water Quality Division.

…Hartley said he had no issues with improving the land.

“We have good reclamation laws, requiring companies to put the land back better than it was before,” he said. “I like the laws. I have no trouble with that.”

The paper reports Hartley pointed out the potential rule overlap in an email to DEQ, and also requested a meeting with DEQ at the mine site later this week to clear the issue up.

“This is not a contentious meeting,” [Saba Tahmassebi, chief engineer at DEQ] said. “We have been working well with Mr. Hartley. We routinely get comments from folks and they ask questions. This is nothing out of the ordinary.

Tahmassebi says the meeting will include DEQ legal staff, who will evaluate what each of the agencies’ rules are regarding stream beds, and that the requirement for the extra 20 percent of construction could change.

Copyright 2021 StateImpact Oklahoma. To see more, visit StateImpact Oklahoma.

Logan Layden is a reporter and managing editor for StateImpact Oklahoma.
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