Citingthe environmental impact of coal mining operations in the area, the U.S. Fishand Wildlife Service announced that it will formally protect two species ofcrayfish in waters in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.
The movecould eventually require all federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish andWildlife Service before issuing new permits or funding activities that couldimpact the waters. According to a release in the U.S. Federal Register to bepublished on April 7, the agency said it has determined that the two speciesare threatened and they will be added to the federal List of Endangered andThreatened Wildlife.
Inaddition to coal mining, the agency cited "commercial timber operations,road construction, ORV use, oil and gas development, and unpaved road surfaces"as threats the crayfish species.
Whilehe had not had time to review the ruling, West Virginia Coal AssociationPresident Bill Raney told S&P Global Market Intelligence that it soundedlike another effort to limit coal activity on environmental grounds.
BillBissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, echoed that sentiment,calling it "concerning." Like Raney, Bissett said he has not had timeto explore the full impact of the new rule, but suggested that it could have anegative impact on mining costs and permitting delays at a time when theindustry is already coping with a host of challenges.
"Iunderstand the need to preserve this wildlife, but I am sure there are a lot ofcoal miners out there who are concerned about their well-being as well,"Bissett said, adding that there was also potential for the new rule to limitthe construction of needed infrastructure in the commonwealth.
Accordingto the Center for Biological Diversity, the federal action is the result of apetition the group submitted requesting the protection of the animals.
"Protectingthese two crayfishes under the Endangered Species Act will not only ensuretheir survival but will also protect streams and water quality that areimportant for people," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Centerand a native of southeastern Kentucky.
Thefederal action is the latest decision intended to protect U.S. waters from theimpact of coal mining operations, including the contentious , which addsseveral new environmental requirements to operators' mining near streams,including new measures designed to monitor and assess how mining is affectingnearby streams as a project advances.
Coalmines in the Central Appalachiabasin, where the species live and where the federal rule will apply, have seena significant decline in production over the past year. According to an S&PGlobal Market Intelligence analysis of fourth-quarter production data from theU.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, production at the 25 top-producingcoal mines in Central Appalachia fell about 14.6% year over year in 2015compared to 2014. The region — mostly stretching across eastern Kentucky andsouthern West Virginia — has been the hardest hit by ongoing weakness indomestic and international coal markets.