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Texas environment agency approves Dos Republicas coal mine expansion

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved theexpansion and renewal of a wastewater permit for Dos Republicas CoalPartnership's Eagle Pass coal mine.

The commission voted unanimously to grant the permit for thepartnership's Eagle Pass mine in Maverick County, Texas, on July 6, but somemembers of the public vowed to fight the decision, chanting and calling outtheir protest to the administrative law judges.

"Take your children over there Eagle Pass to drink the water,see how you like that," called an angry woman from the crowd during themeeting.

The mining project, which is funded by Minera del Norte,part of Mexico-based steel company GrupoAcerero del Norte SA de CV, has been for years. Companyofficials said in 2014 that the daily operations at the mine would be run by aNACCO Industries Inc.subsidiary.

David Saucedo, a state judge for Maverick County, spoke atthe open meeting on July 6 about health and safety concerns in the local area. "Webelieve that there is a strong probability of water contamination that will becaused by the operation of this mine," he said.

ButChes Blevins, executive director and general counsel of the Texas Mining andReclamation Association, said the state agency made the appropriate decisionafter a "very thorough review" of the evidence and a fullhearing. "Bottom line, simply no evidence of any water pollution fromthese operations, which are new," he told S&P Global MarketIntelligence. "The plans approved for mining, reclamation and protectionof both surface and groundwater resources meet or exceed both state and federalrequirements. Considering the level of permittee commitment plus both state andfederal oversight, the public, water and all environmental resources will beprotected."

Oberlyn Salinas, the chief of staff of democratic Texas Rep.Alfonso Nevarez, read a letter on the democratic representative's behalf thatadded that local archaeological sites could also be impacted by runoff anddischarge from the mine.

"In this situation Maverick County and the people ofEagle Pass will be sacrificing their health, land and culture with nothing togain from Dos Republicas," Salinas read at the open meeting.

But Dos Republicas' lawyerBreck Harrison said the amendment did not involve any new kind of dischargethan what already existed from ongoing mining activities."This is not a case where the amendment is seeking to expand the types ofwastewaters that are going to be discharged beyond that which was previouslyauthorized," he said.

The Sierra Club said in a release that the TCEQ's permittingprocess existed to protect people from pollution rather than put them at riskfrom "toxic coal runoff."

"It is extremely sad and disappointing towitness the TCEQ rubber-stamping this permit, making it impossible for thepeople of Eagle Pass and Maverick County to preserve and protect their water,"said Tane Ward, senior organizing manager for Beyond Coal.

Dos Republicas did not respond to a requestfor comment in time for publication.

According to data from the U.S. Mine Safetyand Health Administration, Eagle Pass produced 715,112 tons of coal in 2015. Inthe first quarter of 2016, it produced 460,539 tons and employed an average of173 people.